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Dan Carter: 'When I did finish, it was like oh s***, who am I?'

By Liam Heagney
Former All Blacks star Dan Carter (Photo by Richard Heathcote/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Dan Carter was burning the midnight oil in Auckland the other night when numerous other fellow founder members of the Global Rugby Players Association pitched up in person in London for the big reveal.


Pilot programmes in New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and the Pacific Islands have gotten the ball rolling on a holistic package of support to help former players transition better away from the game, and the foundation will broaden its horizons with a central delivery of assistance and further funding rounds later in the year.

It says a lot about Carter’s character and his enduring love for the game that he is prepared to muck in with the rank and file for the greater good.

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The lads have plenty of big club games to react to this week after finals in Europe and Japan as well as some huge results in Super Rugby Pacific. We start by dissecting the games in Christchurch and Hamilton before casting an eye over the Champions Cup final.

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The lads have plenty of big club games to react to this week after finals in Europe and Japan as well as some huge results in Super Rugby Pacific. We start by dissecting the games in Christchurch and Hamilton before casting an eye over the Champions Cup final.

As a Rugby World Cup-winning All Blacks talisman who won 112 caps in his glittering Test career before embarking on successful overseas stints in France and Japan, it would be understandable if he wanted little to do with the sport now that he is no longer a star attraction.

It was February 2021 when he pulled the plug at the age of 38, deciding to rekindle his roots in New Zealand rather than embark on another rodeo abroad. Forty months have now passed since that decision was reached and even his transition to the rugby afterlife hasn’t been without its difficulties.

Hence his realisation that if it’s bumpy at times for him, a global icon of the sport, imagine what it must be like for your regular Joe hanging up the boots and carving out a different existence.

The line was crystal from the southern hemisphere last Thursday when Carter originally popped up on the big screen behind the shoulder of Jonny Wilkinson on a basement stage underneath the iconic St Martin-in-the-Fields church facing onto Trafalgar Square.


His delivery during this busy auditorium live segment of the launch was polished but when the time came later to do a one-to-one with RugbyPass, the gremlins had struck.

Downsized to a laptop, the cross-hemisphere audio had significantly deteriorated but Carter still retained his trademark poise and panache, candidly opening up about his own retirement issues and wholeheartedly endorsing this creation of the players’ foundation.

There was also his assessment as an All Blacks fan giddily awaiting the new Scott Robertson era, which gets going versus England next month. We’ll have more of that here-and-now Test rugby perspective below but let’s talk transition first and how even a giant of the game like Carter struggled when he exited the changing room for the final time.

“What I struggle with is that lack of connection,” he explained. “One of the foundation’s pillars is actually having a community rugby-playing app where you can continue to communicate. I’m one of the lucky ones; I have got some good friends, teammates, opponents that once I got the courage to ring and ask them how they handled transitioning out of the game, that’s what gave me a lot of confidence.


“I realised actually I’m not in this myself whereas when I finished playing because I was hiding from it for so long I thought, man, this is only me sort of having these challenges. As soon as I realised I am not in this alone it empowered me to take on this challenge that was in front of me and embrace it all and understand it’s actually pretty normal to have those challenges when you are navigating change in your life.”

The change wasn’t completely a leap into the deep end. Carter had dealt with player development managers when playing in New Zealand, so there was an interest shown in what he might get up to away from the game. It’s just that when the old routine ended and he was no longer a rugby player, the reality of no longer being the star hit hard.

“We are really lucky in New Zealand. We have player development managers at every franchise for players and they work weekly to help set them up. What are your interests outside of rugby? What do you like doing? I had some curiosity about business and invested in various businesses, unsuccessfully the majority of them, and it was a great way to learn. But I was just kind of ticking the box really.

“I knew that I couldn’t play rugby forever and it wasn’t until the back end of my career when it started getting closer that I was finding every excuse not to think about it. So I knew it was always going to be part of my life one day but the closer it got the more I wanted to avoid it because of that fear that actually I don’t know what life is going to look like after rugby.

“And then when I did finish, it was like, ‘Oh s***, actually who am I?’ I can’t say I’m a rugby player anymore. I don’t really know when I get out of bed each morning what am I, what am I supposed to be doing. Because it’s been to be the best rugby player I possibly could for close to 20 years and you take that away, there is a real void to fill but I actually now understand it’s a challenge a lot of professional rugby players have.

“I was one of the lucky ones. I got to finish on my terms, have a really long career, so it inspired me to be part of a foundation that supported players no matter how they exited the game, whether they played five Test matches and had a career-ending injury or whether they played two or three seasons before they got the tap on the shoulder from their coach. It’s actually having a network and the support system for all players, not just players that were able to have long careers like myself.”

How very noble. “This is for everyone. It’s not crisis management of, ‘Okay, you need to have some serious problems before you are allocated this support system’. This is for all players and it’s a very holistic approach so no matter where you played the game, no matter how long you played the game and no matter how you exit the game, this support system is for you. By the players, for the players.”

Let’s add some more meat to the bone, Dan. How did you cope as time went on post-2021? “Initially I struggled, what is it to be doing, what’s driving me through my days off? I’m lucky to have a really supportive family around me so kids are an amazing distraction, but just the highs that you get from being a professional rugby player and playing in front of big crowds, you can’t really replicate those.

“You just have to accept that ending of the chapter in your life but what I learned through that time is to actually take the lessons and learning I got. I got some incredibly valuable lessons and experiences through being a professional rugby player for so long that actually are going to help me in this next chapter in my life.

“I felt like I was on the start line again but said this time I had this wealth of knowledge that was just going to propel me forward. That’s the thing we are trying to reframe, that word retirement and actually change that for it to be more empowering for rugby players to make sure they are not defined by their rugby career.

“Instead, they have actually got this incredible opportunity to live a healthy and fulfilling life after rugby. That is what we are really trying to change, the mindset of rugby players as they finish playing.”

In Carter’s eyes, the launch of the foundation is a good news story that will continue to be positive long after he is finished helping to steer policy alongside fellow greats such as Richie McCaw, Wilkinson and Siya Kolisi. “When you are doing things for the right reasons and wanting to give back to the sport that has given me so much, it is something that I am really proud about to be working alongside some greats of the game, the founders of this foundation.

“We really care about the sport, and we really care about the custodians of our sport and that is the rugby players – men’s, women’s, sevens, 15s. To now know they have a support system through the Global Rugby Players Foundation to help them as they transition out of the game is a really proud moment.

“I’m really excited to see it evolve and grow over time. It will be passed onto new patrons of the foundation and there will be players that are currently playing at the moment who will be leading this foundation in the future. Hopefully, the aspirations are that this foundation will be around for generations to come and support thousands of rugby players that have contributed to our game over time.”

Now that he is well settled back into New Zealand life, is the recently-turned 42-year-old still seen as Dan Carter the All Blacks hero, or has his profile waned? “They move on pretty quickly in New Zealand,” he chuckled. “There is a lot of fantastic young talent coming through.

“It’s not too bad. A lot of people sort of knew me for the success that I had on the rugby field, but New Zealand is so small they understand that I’m a human being as well, a family man who has a lot of other interests as well. So, I can have conversations that are not about rugby on the odd occasion but, as you know, we’re pretty rugby-mad down here in New Zealand.”

That nicely brings us to the two-Test series versus the English in Dunedin and Auckland next month. What’s the vibe surrounding Robertson now that he has succeeded Ian Foster, who finished up after taking the All Blacks to the World Cup final last October?

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“There is a lot of anticipation around the All Blacks season this year under the guidance of Scott Robertson and his coaching group, a lot of young talent coming through to select from after the loss of a lot of experienced personnel that finished after the World Cup.

“It often happens with the World Cup cycle. The one thing that New Zealand rugby does not have is a rebuilding phase or anything like that. We expect and demand success all year around so there is a lot of excitement and anticipation around Razor and where they can take that success he has had ever since he has been a coach over into the international scene.

“There are some huge Test matches first up in July against England just to see what the changes are and, as a rugby fan, I’m excited to see the team in black back out on the footy field,” he said, adding that he never imagined when he was a teammate of Roberston that he would one day be running the firm as head coach.

“No, not at all. He is a good mate of mine. We crossed paths, played a few seasons together but seriously he has impressed me so much since he finished playing and took to coaching. Every team he has been a part of he just lives and breathes the success. He gets the best out of the players, and I am excited to see him do that on an international stage.”

Will that stage ever accommodate All Blacks in the team that are based outside of New Zealand? “I don’t think that will change any time soon,” reckoned Carter. “They want to strengthen New Zealand rugby. Players play overseas for various reasons. I know I went over to play in France to spend more time with my family, so players leave for different reasons.

“They are pretty strong on the eligibility rule. They are constantly reviewing it and looking at it which is important because the status quo, what it is today, doesn’t necessarily mean it is what it will be in 10, 20 years, so constantly reviewing is important but I can’t see that changing any time soon.”

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