All Black Carter relieved to be at his last Rugby World Cup

All Black Dan Carter

Four years of doubt and frustration are about to end for New Zealand’s boy
wonder Dan Carter, the world’s most prolific Test points-scorer who has overcome
multiple setbacks to reach the World Cup.

Carter, twice the world player of the year in 2005 and 2012, is crucial to
the world champion All Blacks’ bid to become the first side to win the prized
Webb Ellis trophy twice in succession.

The playmaker has all the skills — a dynamic fly-half who can attack, sidestep,
tackle ferociously and lethal with his goal-kicking accuracy — but his body
has struggled to cope with the rigours of 13 years at the top.

Even when available for selection this year, Carter was only a shadow of his
former self, prompting a warning from coach Steve Hansen that time was running
out in the countdown to deadline for World Cup selection.

Carter was devastated during the last World Cup to be ruled out with a groin
strain suffered in training just hours after he had been named to captain the
side for the first time in a pool match against Canada.

Frequent injuries followed, restricting the once invincible Carter to only
21 appearances in the All Blacks 50 Tests since then, and nine of them were
in his stellar 2012 year.

But the 33-year-old, who made his World Cup debut in 2003, never gave up hope
that he would make it to England for his fourth appearance in rugby’s showpiece
tournament.

“I was extremely proud of the guys winning that World Cup in 2011 but
on a personal level I was disappointed not to be there in the play off stages
through injury.

“So back then I made it a goal of mine to be at the next World Cup and
here I am just on the eve of the tournament,” said Carter.

“There were times in those four years that I questioned whether I’d be
here, but the body is good, it’s exciting to be here and it’s going to be my
last World Cup so I’m just wanting to do whatever I can to help this team perform.”

Carter burst on to the international scene in 2003 playing at inside-centre
and immediately put his points scoring talents on display.

He contributed 20 points in the All Blacks 55-3 thrashing of Wales with a try,
six conversions and a penalty.

He goes into this World Cup with a total of 1516 Test points, 270 more than
the second-highest scorer, the now retired England great Jonny Wilkinson.

When fit, Carter is the All Blacks automatic fly-half selection, but his struggles
with injuries leading to a drop in form, left him in danger of not making it
England.

As Hansen weighed up the balance of a World Cup squad restricted to 31 players,
Carter knew he was under pressure from Lima Sopoaga of the Super rugby champions
Otago Highlanders who had emerged as the form fly-half in New Zealand.

Hansen took Carter aside in July, before the start of the Rugby Championship,
and told the veteran to rediscover the game that had made him great.

His first two outings were average and Carter was left out of the side that
beat South Africa in Johannesburg where Sopoaga played a blinder on debut.

That left Carter with one game left to prove himself before the squad to fly
to England was named and he nailed it in a 41-13 win over Australia.

Hansen said it was “the Dan Carter of old” and he knew he had his
backline general back in form going into the World Cup.

Carter knew it too.

“There’s a lot of competition right through the All Blacks, including
my position, so to have a solid performance like that, in my last game on home
soil was really pleasing,” he said.

That gives Carter one last shot at playing in a World Cup final before he heads
to France to play out his remaining days with Racing92.

It still grates with Carter he was not there at the end in 2011 and he does
not want another injury repeat.

“Obviously, I would have preferred to be out there but it’s just the way
it went and I still got my winners’ medal and I felt extremely proud.

“At the same time I wanted to give myself a shot at one more World Cup
and here I am.”

The All Blacks opening game is against Argentina at Wembley on Sunday.

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