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'I had one of my worst performances in the black jersey': Dan Carter's post-Lions lesson

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

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Former All Black first five-eighth Dan Carter had to bid his time when he first joined the side, learning under the two prominent 10s of that generation in Carlos Spencer and Andrew Mehrtens.

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Carter’s first 11 starts with the All Blacks were at second five-eighth wearing the 12 jersey, with a handful of bench appearances at 10 behind the experienced pair.

Speaking with Jason Pine on Newstalk ZB’s DRS promoting his new book 1598, Carter attributed much of his success as an international 10 down to the fact that he spent his first year and a half in test rugby playing in the midfield, a position he also played with the Crusaders.

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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster discusses preparations for USA
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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster discusses preparations for USA

“I put a lot of my success in the 10 jersey down to the fact that I did play 12 for the first year and a half of my international career,” Carter explained on the DRS.

“Playing alongside the likes of Carlos Spencer, Andrew Mehrtens, was two completely different number 10s. I felt like I was able to learn the best from those two.

“When my time came on the end of season tour in 2004, I felt like I was ready even though I couldn’t believe the coaches had left out a couple of these legends and put so much faith in a young little 22-year-old.

“But I was able to learn so much from those two, so a lot of my success comes down to learning from the best.”

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Carter went on to help the All Blacks to three wins over Italy, Wales and France on the 2004 tour, scoring 19, 11 and 25 points in those games as the starting first five. Although few at the time would have realised what the Cantabrian would go on to achieve.

Just eight months later the British & Irish Lions would tour New Zealand where Carter announced his potential to the world, but it was on that November tour where Carter was already feeling at home.

He insisted it was the first game against Italy where he settled in and became comfortable playing 10 for the All Blacks.

“No, it was almost right from my first test match. I still remember it, it was against Italy in Italy. I was extremely nervous I felt like there was a new sense of responsibility for me and my game,” he said.

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“But as soon as the game started, I thrived on that, I absolutely loved that pressure and that ability to have more control of the game, to be making the decisions. You make a lot more in the 10 jersey than one place out.

“I knew from that moment that was the position that I wanted to continue for the rest of my career. It was a great learning process leading up to there, but as soon as I got a chance to put on the 10 jersey it felt home straight away.

Carter became a household name in the rugby world with his 33-point haul in Wellington against the British & Irish Lions in the second test, which put him on the map globally as a rising star of the game at 23-years-old.

He said it was a ‘very special game’ that put the world on notice to what he was capable of, but he soon learnt that the spotlight comes with added pressure to perform.

“It was a pretty special moment, a very special game. I think if anything it put me on the world stage a little bit more, probably not many international rugby supporters had heard of me,” he said.

“After a series like that, and a game like that in the second test match a lot more people in the global rugby circles, all of a sudden knew about me and what I was capable of.

“With things like that comes added pressure. There’s that expectation that every time you put on the jersey after that game, that you are expected to play at that level. That’s something that I had to learn to deal with.

“In the end, I actually thrived on it, which was something I actually needed.

Clinching the Lions series in Wellington meant Carter had won his first six starts as the All Blacks flyhalf, but he then missed the third and final test match of the Lions tour as Luke McAllister debuted.

His next start was against the Springboks in Cape Town which Carter called a ‘reality check’ as he was soon ‘brought back down to Earth’. The All Blacks were beaten 22-16 in a game Carter described as ‘one of his worst’ for the All Blacks.

“There was a good reality check. If you look through the book, I had that fantastic night in Wellington, the second test match against the Lions and my next test was in South Africa and I was brought right back down to Earth,” he recalled.

South Africa raced out to a 13-0 lead before the 10-minute mark after two penalty goals and a Jean de Villiers intercept try. A try to Rico Gear brought the All Blacks within touching distance by halftime behind 13-16, but they couldn’t cut the deficit as Percy Montgomery landed two more penalty goals.

“I had one of my worst performances in the black jersey. It was a great learning for me that when you do have fantastic games, you actually need to go through this process to have consistency and try to get to that level each week.

“I wasn’t able to do that on that occasion.”

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