Carter and his su­per­heroes ready for fi­nal res­cue mis­sion

The heart of the All Blacks will be ripped apart af­ter one last shot at glory at Twick­en­ham

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - Paul Hay­ward CHIEF SPORTS WRITER at Twick­en­ham

Dan Carter’s cher­ished col­lec­tion of su­per­hero cos­tumes started with his favourite, The Phan­tom, a cre­ation of the 1930s, who was also known as ‘The Man Who Can­not Die’. The sport­ing kind of im­mor­tal­ity is guar­an­teed New Zealand’s great­est fly-half when he leads a quin­tet of All Black greats into in­ter­na­tional retirement af­ter this World Cup fi­nal.

Some good news for the rest of the planet. The heart will be ripped out of the All Blacks in the fi­nal 80 min­utes of this tour­na­ment. In their mo­ment of tri­umph – or de­feat – New Zealand will kiss good­bye to five states­men who have shaped the world game for more than a decade and can lay 609 Test caps on a ta­ble. Pre­pare for ar­guably the great­est sin­gle-day ex­o­dus of tal­ent in the his­tory of team sports.

Richie McCaw, Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Con­rad Smith and Kevin Mealamu all emerged around the time England be­came world cham­pi­ons in 2003. Their bid to be­come union’s first back-to-back World Cup win­ners com­bines epic mis­sion with pained good­bye.

Carter took the su­per­hero cos­tume ques­tion with good grace 24 hours be­fore his 112th and last in­ter­na­tional out­ing. “It sounds a bit weird but Ali Wil­liams [the former All Black] and I used to dress up, and started a col­lec­tion, with pretty much ev­ery su­per­hero cos­tume there is,” Carter said. “Not too sure of the rea­son­ing be­hind that, but, yeah, I’ve got a good col­lec­tion at my mate’s house now.”

Carter’s next stop is Rac­ing Metro in Paris, where he signed a three-year deal to be­come the game’s high­est paid player and will be un­veiled next month. But first there is the spec­tac­u­larly un­fin­ished busi­ness of a Rugby World Cup fi­nal ap­pear­ance to fill the hole left by his in­jury be­fore the 2011 fi­nale in New Zealand.

“Im­me­di­ately af­ter that [2011] I was pretty dev­as­tated, but I knew I still had a lot to add to New Zealand rugby,” Carter said here at Twick­en­ham. “That’s why I signed a [new] four-year deal. In the back of my mind af­ter what hap­pened in 2011 was to give my­self an­other chance at a World Cup. It was pretty far-fetched think­ing that far ahead. I just wanted to be part of this side for the World Cup. That’s what’s been driv­ing me for the last two years. I feel pretty lucky to be part of such a spe­cial side.”

A de­bate about who is the greater player – McCaw or Carter – would burn a bar­rel of mid­night oil but no­body could over­look the poignance of the two bow­ing out to­gether (as­sum­ing McCaw goes, which he al­most cer­tainly will).

Carter says of the clash with Aus­tralia: “Both teams will be in it to die for the cause – that’s what makes it such a good con­test. Two qual­ity sides go­ing at it.” And, of course, he has imag­ined him­self kick­ing the de­ci­sive points, su­per­hero-style: “I’ve won a few World Cups in my back­yard when I was five or six years old.”

For the All Blacks, the task is to use the melo­drama of mass­re­tire­ment day with­out be­ing over­whelmed by it to Aus­tralia’s ad­van­tage. “There’s been no talk about that at all and I think that’s the last thing any of us want,” McCaw says, try­ing, and fail­ing to per­suade us that five leg­ends depart­ing the stage is a mere sub­plot. He did soften that line: “There’s no doubt the guys know there’s a few fel­las that won’t be here next year, but the best way to get that right is go and per­form.” If any­one can master their emo­tions, th­ese five can.

No pre­view of the clash be­tween the World Cup’s two best sides is com­plete with­out a recita­tion of some as­ton­ish­ing statis­tics. McCaw, 34, has won 130 of his 147 games in the All Black shirt and is a triple World Player of the Year and vet­eran of four World Cups. Brian O’Driscoll’s pre­vi­ous Test ap­pear­ance record of 141 now trails in his wake. Carter, 33, has posted 98 vic­to­ries in 111 All Black fix­tures and is the all-time lead­ing scorer in Test rugby with 1,579 points. He is a dou­ble World Player of the Year and is best known to Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions fans for scor­ing 33 points against the tourists in a 48-18 New Zealand win in 2005.

Nonu (‘The Rock’) and Smith (a lawyer), both 33, have played to­gether at cen­tre a world-record 61 times and are prac­ti­cally um­bil­i­cal. To­gether they post 195 caps and 56 tries. Fi­nally Mealamu, 36, who starts on the bench, is sec­ond only to McCaw on the All Black ap­pear­ances list with 131 caps. Like Carter and McCaw, Mealamu breaks new ground in con­test­ing four World Cups.

If McCaw is the scav­enger supreme and in­de­fati­ga­ble fighter of the side, Carter is the one whose panache has raised the All Black play to an art form. The oth­ers have fed off his tal­ent for or­ches­tra­tion. “He’s en­hanced the jer­sey. When you start out as an All Black that’s one of the great­est things you can do,” says Steve Hansen, the All Blacks’ coach. “If you can sit back and say, ‘I’ve im­proved this jer­sey from how I picked it up’. In his po­si­tion it’s a pretty re­mark­able thing to do, if you think about [Grant] Fox and [Earle] Kir­ton and [An­drew] Mehrtens.

“When they stopped we all said we wouldn’t be able to re­place them but a lit­tle fel­lah from Southbridge has done that. He’s done it in a nice way. He’s a pretty hum­ble bloke. He’s added a new di­men­sion to the first-fives. He’s brought tack­ling. I don’t think Foxy made one in his whole ca­reer. I don’t think Merhrts made too many, either. But the mod­ern day first five-eight has to tackle now and that will be a legacy that’s left for all first-fives. That’s not some­thing they’re keen on but they now have to do it and he’s done it with a lot of courage. The other good thing about him is that he’s a nor­mal good bloke. Likes a beer, likes a laugh, so he’s nice com­pany.”

Hansen is equally com­pli­men­tary of course, about McCaw: “I think he’s prob­a­bly the great­est player we’ve ever had play the game, cer­tainly for New Zealand. As a leader, he copped a bit of flak in ’07. In my mind, lead­ers aren’t made, they are grown. You’re not born a leader, you learn through your ex­pe­ri­ences, and a lot of those ex­pe­ri­ences can be neg­a­tive ones that you have to learn pretty sharply from.”

And Nonu: “Back in ’07, and prob­a­bly prior to that, he was a rugby player who was up and down with his form, up and down with his fit­ness, had a nar­row skill­base, or nar­rower than it is to­day. But he’s one of the fittest guys on the team, he’s got a skill-base to die for, he’s not just a big ball-car­rier. He can off­load, he can kick, and he’s ma­tured into a very good leader. While he doesn’t say a lot, when he does speak, it’s rea­son­ably worth­while lis­ten­ing to it. Along with Con­rad and Sonny Bill, it gives us a mas­sive ad­van­tage in mid­field. It can’t be easy for teams to think, ‘we’ve just got rid of Ma’a Nonu’ and then have to deal with Sonny Bill.”

Carter may have been forced by his wife to re­move the su­per­hero cos­tumes from their home but the New Zealand shirt will never re­ally be off his skin. He de­scribes the ad­dic­tion: “Just the love for the All

‘That’s what’s been driv­ing me for the last two years. I feel lucky to be part of such a spe­cial side’

Black jer­sey. It’s just some­thing I al­ways wanted to do, and got a taste for it, in 2003 for the first time, and never wanted it to end. I had a good run for the first eight years of my ca­reer but then found it pretty tough with form and in­juries.

“But just that love for the jer­sey and want­ing to play at the high­est level and rep­re­sent your coun­try and play along­side your best mates, It’s some­thing that gets you through those tough times.”

All five of the depart­ing leg­ends were handed their de­buts by John Mitchell be­tween 2001 and 2003. They be­gan il­lus­tri­ous ca­reers in Dublin, Cardiff, Hamil­ton and Welling­ton; and, 609 caps later, they leave the crowd want­ing more, in a World Cup fi­nal, at the game’s most fa­mous ground. But there is no more. Just this last hur­rah.

‘He’s prob­a­bly the great­est player we’ve ever had play the game, cer­tainly for New Zealand’

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