'I got to the end and thought, is that it?: When Dan Carter scored 20 points against Wales in his first start as an All Black
At the time, Carter had been playing second-five due to the on-going battle between the two best 10s in the country – Carlos Spencer and Andrew Mehrtens – at the Blues and Crusaders respectively.
The young pivot had originally been picked on the bench against England in Wellington for the first test of the year but had to watch as Jonny Wilkinson kicked five goals to hand the All Blacks a rare home loss 15-13. Reflecting in his autobiography My Story, Carter wrote that Wilkinson was ‘incredible’ and ‘kicked us out of the game’.
“They were a very strong team, led by the guy who was probably the best first-five in the world at that point, Jonny Wilkinson,” he wrote.
“I was selected on the bench for the first test in Wellington on June 14, which was an honour – but also a reflection of my ability to cover two positions. I didn’t get on, and we lost. My first game with an All Blacks jersey on my back, and it was a loss to a team to which you really, really don’t want to lose.”
In the dressing room after the match, Carter described the mood as ‘incredibly dark’ which led to a realisation that the All Blacks are kept to a different standard.
“That’s when I first realised that All Blacks teams just can’t lose. Especially not at home. Especially not to England. It was a horrible sensation.”
Two years later Carter would get the chance to face off against Wilkinson on the same ground during the 2005 Lions Tour where he put together what is still considered the finest individual performance by a 10 of all time. But it was that loss to England which saw Carter get his first opportunity in the black jersey, elevated to the starting team to play Wales in Hamilton for the next week.
“The following day we reviewed the game, an excruciating process, before one of the coaches quietly told me I’d be starting the following week.”
The anticipation of starting a test for the All Blacks quickly washed away the feeling of the loss to England and Carter wrote of his excitement throughout the week. Surprisingly, he wrote that he was ‘more relaxed’ about the game than his Crusaders debut and was free from the burden of expectation heading into the game.
“For some reason I was more relaxed heading into my All Blacks debut than my first Crusaders game. Maybe it was the Mehrts situation, or because we were coming off a loss. But I didn’t feel the same burden of expectation, and instead relished all the theatre. The fireworks, the anthems – and the haka.”
The fleet-footed Carter dazzled on debut, showing glimpses of what he would eventually become. After starting the game wearing number 12, he had to change into a replacement number after having his jersey ripped.
Early in the second half Carter grabbed his first test try with a trademark fend after a long pass from Carlos Spencer, but fails to recall any of it writing that the game just went by in flash.
“You’d think my memory of my All Blacks debut would be really sharp, but it’s anything but. I remember kicking off – then suddenly the match was over.
“I got to the end and thought, is that it? I was so focused on the moment that I barely registered the wider game itself. Whatever happened, it didn’t affect my performance. I scored a try, kicked most of my goals and ended up with 20 points. A dream debut, with a 55 – 3 win.”
Watch Carter’s debut against Wales in Hamilton.
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