Carter’s flame may be fad­ing but his legacy is se­cure –

All Black player of his gen­er­a­tion is end­ing his top-class ca­reer as a sub­sti­tute for Rac­ing 92

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Gavin Cummiskey

Rob­bie Deans used to run along­side Neville Carter. Ac­tu­ally, it was the other way round, what with Deans be­ing an All Black in the Can­ter­bury Coun­try’s mid­field.

“I met Neville in the grand­stand while coach­ing the Cru­saders some time around 1998, and said, ‘tell Dan to be ready be­cause it is go­ing to hap­pen fast’.”

Great­ness is un­mis­tak­able when it ap­pears on New Zealand rugby’s rugged ter­rain. Like Sh­ef­flin ris­ing from Bal­ly­hale, or Bolt skim­ming across swollen Ja­maican tracks, or Zi­dane on Mar­seilles’ dust bowls.

“He was one of those rare kids. Ev­ery time he was pro­moted he looked like he was at the level for a long time. Some guys just got that air about them.”

The fu­ture Wal­la­bies coach ran Carter at 12 on en­try into the Cru­saders set-up and for the All Blacks – as both men were pro­moted within a year – or any slot they could find in be­tween An­drew Mehrtens, Aaron Mauger and Leon McDon­ald.

“It fit­ted our model at the time of two play-mak­ers. It meant Dan had a lit­tle more time to see things un­fold but he was al­ways ready. You hear about a once-in-a-life­time bloke pretty quickly. At sec­ondary school level he was be­hind Cam McIn­tyre, who just de­vel­oped phys­i­cally be­fore him, but you could see Dan was com­ing.”

Af­ter to­day Dan Carter will have been and gone.

Great­ness, while un­for­get­table, fades in its phys­i­cal form, and so this 36-year-old ends his top-class rugby ca­reer as a sub.

The legacy Carter leaves is be­yond re­proach, but some of his Parisian ad­ven­tures seemed so rad­i­cally out of char­ac­ter.

“He didn’t used to be the source of any grief,” said Deans in dis­be­lief, “I know he had an event re­cently, but look at the ca­reer he has had, there’s re­mark­ably few blem­ishes for a bloke who has a mas­sive pro­file. ” Paris isn’t Christchurch. “Ev­ery con­text is dif­fer­ent, but when you look at his ca­reer as a whole, clearly he is a good char­ac­ter. Talk to his peers and they’d tell you the same.”

The “event” – Dan Carter sur­passed all ex­pec­ta­tions at the 2015 World Cup be­fore guid­ing Rac­ing to their first Top 14 ti­tle in 26 years – al­most ended in to­tal hu­mil­i­a­tion as re­ports sur­faced of ab­nor­mal urine sam­ples and blow­ing over the limit at a po­lice check­point on the Champs-Élysées.

In Feb­ru­ary 2017, Carter had been sum­moned to ap­pear be­fore sep­a­rate French anti-dop­ing hear­ings to ex­plain the 81 nanogrammes per millil­itre of cor­ti­cos­teroid in his sys­tem im­me­di­ately af­ter the Pro 14 fi­nal at Barcelona’s Camp Nou the pre­vi­ous sum­mer.

This 14-man vic­tory over Toulon – af­ter Maxime Machenaud’s early red card – had jus­ti­fied Jacky Loren­zetti mak­ing Johnny Sex­ton’s re­place­ment the high­est paid French club player (re­port­edly on ¤71,000 a month).

Dop­ing vi­o­la­tions

The World Anti-Dop­ing Agency (Wada) has a limit of 30 nanogrammes per millil­itre, so be­fore Dan Carter, Joe Roko­coko, Juan Imoff and the Rac­ing doc­tor were com­pletely cleared of any dop­ing vi­o­la­tions the great­est player of this or any gen­er­a­tion was forced to linger un­der damn­ing head­lines.

French Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Bernard La­porte ex­on­er­ated the trio and club be­fore any hear­ing took place. Noth­ing to see here.

Still, prob­a­bly not the best time to be done for drink-driv­ing af­ter at­tend­ing a Cham­pi­ons League game with old pal Ali Wil­liams. Re­ports state a blood-al­co­hol level mea­sur­ing 0.98 grams of al­co­hol per litre of blood. The le­gal limit is 0.5 grams.

“No ex­cuses,” Cater de­clared via so­cial me­dia. “I made a mas­sive er­ror of judg­ment, and have let down my club, my fans and most im­por­tantly my fam­ily. I will have to now let the po­lice/court process run its course and face the con­se­quences. I am just glad no one was harmed. Sorry.”

The car spon­sor­ship dis­solved, but Adi­das and others stayed with the most mar­ketable rugby player on the planet.

“My man­age­ment and I have had to front up to my spon­sors. Not sur­pris­ingly, Land Rover, who for good rea­son have zero tol­er­ance to­wards drink-driv­ing, have ended their re­la­tion­ship with me. I un­der­stand this com­pletely, and am dis­ap­pointed I put them in this po­si­tion.”

Loren­zetti built a nar­ra­tive around a Kiwi su­per­star ex­posed to blind­ing Parisian lights.

“I now know that he has a fault, that of lov­ing the party too much...The fi­nan­cial penalty has been tough, be­lieve me.”

Two weeks later Wil­liams was ar­rested for buy­ing co­caine out­side a Paris night­club and sub­se­quently sacked by Rac­ing.

Carter, who had no in­volve­ment in that si­t­u­a­tion, re­turned to the field of play but en­coun­tered the odd­est feel­ing of his ca­reer when booed off the field af­ter a Rac­ing de­feat in March 2017.

Spring­bok Pa­trick Lam­bie ar­rived this sea­son, and was in­stalled as the start­ing num­ber 10.

“Dan has kept evolv­ing,” said Deans of the big­ger pic­ture that in­cludes re­mark­able re­turns from se­ri­ous in­jury. “That’s what you got to do be­cause once you be­come one of the best play­ers in the world there is a lot of scru­tiny, and peo­ple start de­vis­ing ways of mak­ing your life very dif­fi­cult, but he kept evolv­ing him­self and his teams have kept win­ning.

“That’s what stands him above the others. He is still do­ing it to this day by turn­ing him­self into an im­pact player.”

Rac­ing would not be play­ing in Bil­bao but for Carter’s mag­i­cal cameo to sack Cler­mont’s Mar­cel Miche­lin in the quar­ter-fi­nal.

Con­fi­dence

“Dan has al­ways been very com­fort­able around the con­tact. A lot of play­ers can get in­tim­i­dated and can be pushed off the gain­line, forced to sit back and kick, which makes it a lot eas­ier to de­fend. Dan has never done that. He has lived right in the op­po­si­tion’s face, and forces teams to de­fend. It’s that con­fi­dence that stands him apart.

“The one el­e­ment he doesn’t get credit for is how he used to clean up de­fen­sively. Be­cause he had the speed and the de­sire and aware­ness he’d ar­rive from nowhere to close a gap. He was al­ways a su­perb de­fender.”

Faded pace and tackle tech­nique sep­a­rates Carter from Sex­ton but not much else.

“They have sim­i­lar­i­ties be­cause of their con­sis­tency. Sex­ton is in his prime in terms of de­ci­sion-mak­ing, the peo­ple around him be­lieve in him, and that is key be­cause a bad idea be­lieved in is bet­ter than a good idea not be­lieved in. That’s what you get with time in the sad­dle, the re­spect means peo­ple will fol­low you and make good ev­ery­thing you do.”

Imag­ine Loren­zetti’s de­light if Carter, limp­ing past his prime en route to a Ja­panese pen­sion, trumps the man orig­i­nally meant to be the jewel in the Rac­ing 92 crown.

His ul­ti­mate legacy is se­cure: the stun­ning 33 points to cap­ture the 2005 Lions se­ries is prob­a­bly the best in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance ever; the 2015 semi-fi­nal and fi­nal when he nailed vi­tal drop goals that made up for cruel in­juries at the 2007 and 2011 tour­na­ments; he turned Su­per Rugby into a play­ground; the Bledis­loe Cup was his hy­dra­tion mug as so many of his test record 1,598 points de­stroyed the Wal­laby spirit right up to the last of his 112 caps; three World Player of the Year awards were evenly spread from 2005, 2012 and 2015, be­fore the Bouclier de Bren­nus be­came his shield.

Drop goals

“At 36, with that ex­pe­ri­ence un­der your belt, the game slows down,” said Deans. “You have more time be­cause you start see­ing things more clearly.”

This has been the sea­son for drop goals. If it comes down to it Carter is lethal be­cause he doesn’t step into the pocket, he cre­ates un­seen space by sim­ply turn­ing in­side and let­ting fly with next to no back swing. Ask the crushed Spring­boks and Wal­la­bies or to­day’s reap­pear­ing Le­in­ster men about Christchurch in 2012.

Le­in­ster must be­ware the dy­ing kick of great­ness if or when he ar­rives.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: AN­DREW SURMA/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

Dan Carter palms off Si­mon Zebo’s chal­lenge dur­ing a Cham­pi­ons Cup en­counter at Thomond Park last year.

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