A new film provides an intimate portrait of the legendary All Black fly-half, Dan Carter
How Dan Carter became A Perfect 10
“He has a brilliant game on him,” says Ronan O’Gara, the former Ireland fly-half. “But he also has the capacity to figure out on the run what to do ahead of everyone else. He plays the moment. I think that’s what defines him.”
So says O’Gara in a new 90-minute documentary about Dan Carter, the man whose ‘wrong-foot’ conversion brought the curtain down on both the 2015 Rugby World Cup and his own extraordinarily distinguished career.
The film has been made by Pitch Productions, and director Luke Mellows admits that the legendary All Black, whose 1,598 Test points will remain a record for many years to come, was initially wary about letting an English crew loose on his life story.
“Once he saw the film, his first reaction was relief but he was also quite moved. He was humbled by the fact people said such nice things about him,” says Mellows. “Of all the projects I’ve worked on, I can’t think of one where people were so willing to contribute. There was an ‘anything for Dan’ response.”
Certainly the great and the good of rugby are all there, including a raft of All Black coaches, Richie McCaw, Beauden Barrett and Jonny Wilkinson, not to mention Carter’s parents and wife Honor. Commentator Scotty Stevenson chips in too, at one point saying: “There was a grace about Dan Carter. There was a glorious choreography about how he approached playing football. It’s almost like watching an illusionist.”
Carter, lest there’s any confusion, is still playing professionally at the age of 37, hoping to help his Japanese club Kobelco Steelers retain the Top League title.
There was fanciful talk of him playing at the current World Cup in Japan, but the player has more than enough memories, good and bad, from the four previous tournaments.
Indeed, if there is a theme to the documentary it’s that Carter, for all his copious talents, spent much of his 112-cap career coping with crushing misfortune on rugby’s grandest stage. “He’s had so many disappointments but he’s always come back – a true test of character,” says Honor.
A peripheral figure at his first World Cup in 2003, Carter left the 2007 quarter-final with an injured calf and watched “in shock” as New Zealand crashed out to France.
In 2011 he collapsed in pain whilst taking a kick at goal in training and missed the whole knockout stage as his team-mates won the cup without him. “I really worked closely with the insides, the nines and tens, in training,” he reflects in the film. “I’d be really positive and after that I’d go back to my room and I’d be broken.”
When, in 2015, he woke up the day after the quarter-final and could hardly walk, he thought the World Cup curse had struck again. However, he recovered to steer New Zealand to the trophy again, his performances against South Africa and Australia earning him even greater respect as he seized responsibility when the team was wobbling.
On the final at Twickenham he says: “I prepared like I’d never prepared in my life for that moment. All the setbacks that I’d had, ’03, ’07, the injury I’d had in 2011 that made no sense, (now) made sense at this moment, 2015.”
There is far more to the film than World Cups and eulogies. Shot in France, Japan and New Zealand, some of the scenery is spectacular and the music entrancingly atmospheric.
It’s a delight to see the small rural community, Southbridge, where Carter grew up and the garden in which stand the goalposts – in blue-and-white town colours – that Dan was given as an eighth birthday present. By the age of nine he was landing touchline goals from 40 metres.
He was only five at the time of the inaugural World Cup, co-hosted by his country in 1987. “I saw how it ignited the country; everyone was on the edge of their seats talking about it at school, talking about it at family dinner time, waiting for the next All Blacks game. It was from that moment that I fell in love with the All Blacks.”
Ellesmere College, Christchurch Boys High School, even the flat he lived in when he was, remarkably, just playing social rugby before being spotted by Canterbury Academy – we visit all the places that touched his life on the way to sporting greatness.
The helicopter flight he takes with pilot McCaw is a clever dynamic, introducing us to the devastating effects of the 2011 earthquake as the two friends look down on Christchurch.
And, of course, there is that second Test of the New Zealand-Lions series in Wellington, a match that all who were there (including this writer) will never forget. Carter delivered as near perfect a fly-half performance as has ever been seen, finishing with 33 points.
Wilkinson was on the losing side that day and says: “There are days when you play against people and you feel they’ve got the Midas touch. To be in the zone like that opens up the game, you start to have an influence far greater than your own space. Everything happens as it’s supposed to happen. Everything you do creates.”
Carter’s playing career has nearly run its course. When retirement comes, it will close the door on arguably the greatest No 10 that rugby has seen.
Dan Carter: A Perfect 10 is available to watch in the UK via Amazon Prime.
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