ESPN talks to Dan Carter
Building a legacy for club and country
April 23, 2014
© Getty Images
Within the Crusaders' inner-sanctum lies their strategy room, a place Richie McCaw refers to as "the heart of the beast". While there are the usual whiteboards and a floor taped up to resemble a rugby pitch, one wall is covered with what looks like an image of a Greek temple. At the top of this structure is the Crusaders' shield with 'Our House' and 'Excellence' written underneath it. Holding it up are six columns with buzzwords inscribed on them, mottos or reminders which change from season to season but the crux of it all is one goal, winning.
It is an ethos which has been drilled into the team since its inception in 1996 and one which saw the franchise win seven Super Rugby titles in 10 years. But 2008 was their last, since when they have experienced a good old fashioned trophy drought.
England will travel to take on Todd Blackadder's men in the summer, a game Stuart Lancaster has referred to as their "fourth Test". This is not mere flattery from Lancaster. As a man who seems to have an unquenchable thirst to delve further into the game's ethnology, he knows the Crusaders are built on the same foundations as the All Blacks - when Wayne Smith joined Graham Henry's regime in 2003, he brought the Crusaders' mentality to the table, a view of establishing a winning culture within a side.
Dan Carter knows this better than most as a man who has played for the Crusaders since 2002 and has won 100 caps for the All Blacks. "The Crusaders breeds a lot of All Blacks - on the end of season New Zealand tour a lot of the guys were young Crusaders coming through," Carter told ESPN. "But there is so much legacy that goes with both. When you become an All Black, your goal every single time you pull on the jersey is to add to that legacy. You want to leave New Zealand in a good place when you pass that jersey on to someone else. I guess the Crusaders are very similar even though they were only formed back in 1996.
"At the Crusaders there is a very competitive mentality and environment you are in. Whether you are just playing games, recovery games or training against the reserves, it's very competitive. The squad is there to win which is why they have been so successful in the past. Nothing's really changed in that aspect since I started. It's very family orientated but very demanding around you being the best you can possibly be."
Carter has been out of both environments since his injury against England back in November 2013 as his team closed in on their perfect unbeaten year. Recovery from the injury and the New Zealand Rugby Union's decision to award Carter a sabbatical has seen him journey the lengths of the earth while also taking in sports events such as the Melbourne Grand Prix and The Masters at Augusta. But fear not, despite Carter's time away from the game, he is not ready to settle into a life of armchair viewing.
"If anything from this break I've had, every time I've watched the game I've wanted to be out there more but I have to remind myself of the benefits of this break. There has been a lot of intensity in my career. It does sometimes get tough as you get older, but there's nothing else I'd rather do."
The hunger is still there for Carter, more than ever, but his life has new perspective. The life of a long-distance place kicker can be a lonely one, individuals in the past have shown the strive for perfection can lead to an isolated existence. The birth of his son Marco in 2013 brought new balance to his life.
"A child puts rugby into perspective. It's just a great experience as if you have a good or a bad game, they don't really know and it gives you great balance. Having a family now, it really helps. When I'm on the training field the focus is on rugby but the beauty of being able to get home and do different things whether it's family or time or something else, it makes you appreciate life."
Dan Carter launches a 2015 World Cup promotion © Getty Images
Even though he is a father, husband and son in his hours spent away from the training field, he is not a new-found soft touch. There is still a thirst, a desire. The last World Cup saw him sitting in the stands on crutches watching Stephen Donald slot the winning penalty; when the pre-World Cup script was written it was Carter slotting that trophy-clinching penalty on New Zealand turf rather than someone else. It was a bittersweet feeling for Carter but his personal disappointment is likely to be channelled into the next World Cup.
"I haven't had a lot of success or luck at World Cups, there is a lot of motivation to get myself in the best possible shape for next year's competition. There's a lot of competition in the squad but I will be working extremely hard to make sure I am there. To be part of a team that wins back-to-back World Cups would be more than enough for me on a personal level."
Before the next World Cup, the All Blacks have in the region of 20 games, Carter will miss the three-Test series against England but Kiwi supporters and stakeholders alike will hope this sabbatical sees him through that tournament and out the other side. He will return to rugby in time for the last few stages of this season's Super Rugby tournament and he will find a Crusaders team chasing silverware with the same ideal and ethos he left. In the aftermath of the Crusaders' 18-17 win over the Chiefs on Saturday, it was described by Ryan Crotty as an old-school Crusaders' win, a victory where they gritted their collective teeth and got through it.
While Carter will be sat in the Christchurch Stadium stands watching his Crusaders tackle England on June 17, regardless of their absent All Blacks contingent, he is in no doubt they will throw everything they have at those in a red-rose shirt. England have been warned.
"The Crusaders are pretty excited about that match, it's not every day you play against an international side. It's exciting. The Christchurch fans will see it as a big match as they see the boys play against a strong English side. It will be a great game and the boys will give it everything."
Dan Carter kicked off MasterCard's Worldwide Partnership with Rugby World Cup 2015. MasterCard will be looking to make Rugby World Cup 2015 priceless for players and fans alike when it comes to England next year
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.