New Zealand tour
Focused Carter eyes French horizon
November 28, 2008
New Zealand's Dan Carter is pictured during the All Blacks training session at Harrow school at Harrow on the Hill, west of London, on November 24, 2008.
Carter is excited by the challenge of joining French Top 14 club Perpignan next month © Getty Images

While benched England No 10 Danny Cipriani reflects on a wretched week in his fledgling international rugby career, the other `DC' is looking forward to his working holiday in the south of France.

Dan Carter is 80 minutes away from winning a second Grand Slam -- an achievement that will allow him to concentrate fully on his six-month "sabbatical" with Perpignan in the Heineken Cup and French Top 14 competitions. When questioned at the start of the All Blacks' end-of-year tour in Hong Kong a month ago, the world's premier first five-eighth emphasised the one-off Bledisloe Cup test and subsequent tilt at the Grand Slam were his sole focus.

However, as his shift to France looms, the 26-year-old admitted it was becoming a slight distraction as he prepares for the All Blacks encounter with England at Twickenham on Saturday.

"It'll be a bit of a relief after this weekend,' he said. "You sort of find yourself drifting off and thinking a little bit about it -- but it doesn't distract you from the job in hand, well, I don't think it has."

Although he has been a fixture in the All Blacks backline during this, their busiest year, Carter insisted he was mentally and physically fresh for the demands of a European sojourn that will inevitably see him targeted on and off the field. "I don't think it'll be to hard to get up for those (Perpignan) games. It'll be a completely new challenge."

Carter said a break during the later stages of the Air NZ Cup enabled him to find the right frame of mind for the twin challenges he faces at the end of a season that has him play an integral role in the All Blacks retaining the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations title.

All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith agreed. "That conditioning window will be like gold to him," said Smith, who then lauded Carter's contribution to a season that had to be successful, given last year's failure at the World Cup. For consistency and for his contribution during the Tri-Nations, I think it's probably his best.

"Even when you look back at the (British and Irish) Lions series (2005).... he's often been a wee bit disappointed with his performances in the Tri-Nations. He's improved and that's a big thing to say for someone as good as he is."

Carter's leadership, tactical appreciation, and all round strengths proved critical for the All Blacks as they recovered from early losses against South Africa and Australia. "We had our backs to the wall, we had some new players, we were playing a new game," Smith said.

"We were out-coached and out-played in Sydney (34-19). There was a lot of pressure on Dan and I thought in Auckland (against Australia), Cape Town and Brisbane he was as good as I've seen him. He was tough in defence, he ran the game well, he scored tries, kicked goals. He stood up at a time when we really needed him."

Perpignan have reportedly stumped up NZ$1.8 million for Carter's services and for Smith, it will be money well spent. "He always puts in 100 percent whether it's a kicking session, doing your strategy work on the computer. Whatever it is, he gives 100 percent and it'll be the same at Perpignan."

Smith thought Carter could return from France in June an even better player. "Living over there will be good for him, he'll get another perspective on life. He'll play another sort of game and add to his experiences."

Meanwhile, though Carter has French lessons loaded on his iPod, this week has been all about mastering the English. "Another Grand Slam would be huge," said Carter, who played in the successful 2005 side. It would mean a lot for this side, because it's quite different to the one we had last year. We've lost players, there's new faces and guys rejoining the squad. Beating England would top off a great season."

Not that the season is over for Carter. After a week of promotional obligations with adidas in Milan and elsewhere, he heads to his new home and a Heineken Cup debut against Leicester at Stade Aime Giral on December 14.


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