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'They were really dominant': The best player and team Dan Carter ever faced

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Dean Treml/Getty Images)

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All Blacks legend Dan Carter has named the best player and the best team he ever played against throughout his storied rugby career.

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Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod ahead of his upcoming Kickathon event for UNICEF and the DC10 Fund, Carter pinpointed former England first-five Jonny Wilkinson as the best player he ever came up across nearly two decades of professional rugby.

During that time, Carter crossed paths with countless greats of the game, including the likes of Jonah Lomu, Brian O’Driscoll, Bryan Habana, Shane Williams and George Gregan, among numerous others.

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Dan Carter reveals the key to success for All Blacks at next year’s World Cup | Aotearoa Rugby Pod
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However, the two-time World Cup-winning All Blacks centurion, who called time on his playing career early last year, highlighted Wilkinson as the best player he ever faced off against.

“There’s so many, it’s hard to pinpoint one [player]. Probably because I held him in such high regard and had huge amount of respect for him, it was Jonny Wilkinson. He was an absolute student of the game,” Carter told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

The three-time World Rugby Player of the Year attributed a test between the All Blacks and England in 2003, a week before his test debut against Wales, as the match where he began to fully appreciate Wilkinson’s talents.

In that match in Wellington, England defeated the All Blacks 15-13 before going on to claim their first, and only, World Cup title in Australia later that year.

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Wilkinson was the star of that tournament, with his crowning glory coming in the final against the Wallabies when he slotted the match-winning drop goal in the dying stages of extra-time to hand England a 20-17 win in Sydney.

Having watched Wilkinson steer England to victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand five months beforehand as an unused substitute on the sideline, the then-uncapped Carter said he was left in awe of the British playmaker’s world-class abilities.

“It was a wild, windy test match down in Wellington, I was on the bench and I hadn’t played a test match for the All Blacks, and he just took that game and, as a 10 that wants to control a game, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Carter told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“I got the best seats in the house on the bench. Part of me was going, ‘Man, do I really want to get on here because he’s just completely dominating this game’.

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“Thankfully I didn’t. I made my test debut the following week, which was a much better game to remember, but I just remember sitting there going, ‘If I ever do play 10’ – I was playing 12 a lot then – ‘this is how you need to control a game’.

“I had a huge amount of respect for him and playing against him.”

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Throughout his 112-test career, Carter only went head-to-head with Wilkinson on three occasions – twice during the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in 2005, and then when the All Blacks played England in London in 2009.

Carter emerged victorious in all three tests, with arguably his greatest-ever performance coming against Wilkinson in the second Lions test in Wellington – two years after having watched Wilkinson direct England to victory at the same venue.

In terms of the best team he ever played against throughout his career, Carter said that title belonged to the Springboks team that played between 2007 and 2009.

South Africa were crowned World Cup champions in 2007 and then achieved a rare clean sweep of the All Blacks two years later, beating the Kiwis in all three of their tests during the 2009 Tri-Nations.

That same year, the Springboks beat the British & Irish Lions during their tour of South Africa, and had earlier defeated the All Blacks in New Zealand in 2008.

All of that culminated in South Africa alternating with New Zealand at the top of the World Rugby rankings between 2007 and 2009, which led Carter to label the Springboks side of that era as the best he ever faced off against.

“They were quite dominant. Obviously they won in 2007, the World Cup. 2009, there was a real Blue Bulls style to their play back then,” Carter told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“They were dominating at Super Rugby back then as well, the Bulls back then, and South African rugby was such a force.

“It was brutal. Every time you played against the Boks, you knew that you were going to be sore until Wednesday or Thursday.

“It was like I had a target on me. Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies – they were all just big, athletic human beings and they were really dominant in that time.”

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All up, Carter played 19 tests against the Springboks – four of which came between the 2007 World Cup and 2009 Tri-Nations – and managed 15 wins.

Two of his four losses against South Africa came in New Zealand’s 2008 and 2009 home defeats to the Springboks.

Carter – somewhat unsurprisingly – added that former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was the best player he ever played alongside.

“His actions was some of the best leadership that I’ve ever seen,” Carter said of McCaw on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“It would just inspire you being right next to him and seeing it first-hand. It was like, ‘Right, okay, I’m going to do the same’.”

He also said the 2015 World Cup-winning All Blacks side was the best team he had ever been a part of due to the side’s groundbreaking achievements that year.

“My mind automatically goes back to the 2015 team. To create history, probably more so for me because it was such a special moment to finish my All Black career on such a high,” Carter said.

“Helping the team win back-to-back World Cups, first All Blacks team to win a World Cup outside of New Zealand, it was a pretty special and unique team in the fact that seven guys had played 100 test matches, or close to 100 test matches, all finished – some good mates of mine – on the same night as well.”

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