Carter: 'Our record over Irish added to pressure'
Dan Carter has enjoyed countless unforgettable days throughout his illustrious career but the last few weeks aren't likely to ever hold a fond place in the memory bank.
Adjusting to life as a former All Black brings about its own challenges, particularly when you retire having just lifted the World Cup for the second time, but watching the show go on without a hiccup surely makes the process tougher.
But Carter is at ease with his new life in Paris with Racing 92 or at least he was until his world was rocked by a drugs scandal. The 34-year-old has since been cleared of breaching anti-doping rules but for some the mud will have stuck.
On a rare and timely visit to Dublin, Ireland's clash against New Zealand in Chicago tomorrow would ordinarily have been the first order of the day but with increasing doubts hanging over rugby and the use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs), it is left to Carter to again explain why he failed a drugs test.
"It was just a local injection that you do not need a TUE for," he stresses.
"I'm not sure about TUEs because I've never had one or needed one so I don't understand that process. It was as simple as that within the WADA regulations. Unfortunately, some details got leaked and a story was made of it. I obviously had done nothing wrong and it has been proven now.
"I always knew that I had done nothing wrong and to have your name alongside words like 'positive' and 'steroids', which was completely inaccurate. It was disappointing those kind of speculations came out."
While the sceptics about rugby's integrity will continue to exist, the fact remains that Carter was deemed innocent and he is eager to move from on from the entire matter.
It remains to be seen how much, if at all, the reputation of one of the best players to play the game will have been tainted but Carter is still box-office.
Two giant posters hang outside SoftCo's office. Huddles of people gather around outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the out-half on their break.
It's a familiar story wherever Carter goes. Life in France is different nowadays as he watches the All Blacks machine from the outside like every other mere mortal. After 12 glittering years inside the bubble, one would have been forgiven to have expected a dip after Carter called it a day following last year's World Cup final in Twickenham but that was never really on their agenda.
"It's been great to sit back and watch them and just see the progress from after the World Cup," Carter says.
"A lot of teams put so much emphasis on the World Cup and don't really know what they were going to do afterwards. You've seen teams have taken a big dip.
"The All Blacks have just continued to get better and that's off the back of some strong foundations which have been put in place for many years. The same coaching staff and management and they've kept things rolling.
"It's not a surprise to me as when I was involved in the All Blacks we were bringing a lot of these younger guys up into leadership roles and now a few of the older players have moved on and it's been a natural evolution of those younger players to lead the team."
As is proven time and time again, the 'natural evolution' in New Zealand is a frighteningly different process to any another nation in the world.
While 2013 was a close scare for the All Blacks, that painful defeat will remain embedded in Irish history until they finally seal that elusive first win over them.
"It is probably still giving a few Irish people nightmares," Carter smiles.
"We're very lucky we have an amazing history with the success we've had against the Irish teams and every time there's a game there's always that question, is that history going to change?
"It's not something we talk about, to be honest. At the same time the players know the history and know that's the case and even when I was playing I didn't want to be part of the first team to be beaten by Ireland so it's at the back of your mind and that brings a little bit of extra pressure.
"It's the kind of pressure the players and the All Blacks really feed on and use as motivation to make sure you do everything you can to get the win."
An Achilles injury meant that Carter missed his side's last-gasp win at the Aviva. Aaron Cruden was given the nod ahead of Beauden Barrett but tomorrow the roles will be reversed as the latter starts at out-half.
Johnny Sexton spoke last week about how Ireland learned the importance of having their entire match-day squad contributing, and not having substitutes merely filling a gap. The players coming on must contribute as much as the guy they are replacing and almost right on cue, Carter points to that exact notion as being he bedrock of New Zealand's relentless pursuit of success.
"I've seen a lot of teams match the All Blacks' intensity and really take it to them, but to be able to do that for 80 minutes, it takes its toll on players," Carter insists.
"That's where you need that impact, so Ireland obviously need huge games from the guys that come off the bench, and just need to play at a speed and physicality level that matches the All Blacks, but also forces the All Blacks into being put under pressure.
"It's not easy to do, but in sport, momentum is a big part of the game and if Ireland can get some momentum going for a period of time they can then they can put the All Blacks under pressure."
Carter himself has come under an altogether different kind of pressure in recent times but he remains unperturbed. Ireland will hope that his former team-mates are not feeling the same during tomorrow's clash at Soldier Field.