Sunday 25 September 2016

Dan Carter on why Ireland feels like home, the legend of Jonah Lomu and family life

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

Dan Carter: as soon as he could walk, a rugby ball was put in his hands.
Dan Carter: as soon as he could walk, a rugby ball was put in his hands.

Daniel William Carter (34) is considered by some to be the greatest player in rugby history, and is certainly the most successful. From Leeston, near to Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand, he made his début for the All Blacks in 2003 at the age of 21. Since then, he's been capped 112 times, won two World Cups and is the highest-scoring international rugby player ever.

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He ended his international career last year, and is now playing for Racing 92 in France. In 2011 he married former hockey international Honor Dillon. The couple, who both have modelling experience, were among the stars at Paris Fashion Week in January. They have two sons Marco (3) and Fox, who turns one next week. Dan was in Ireland this month to launch the Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards in association with Aldi.

"Ireland reminds me of home. We went up to Mohill up in County Leitrim to meet last year's Citizenship Awards winners, who did this amazing project on someone from their town who went down with the Titanic. I come from a small community just like that, where everyone knows everyone, so I felt right at home.

"My father played rugby, and as soon as I could walk he was putting a rugby ball into my hands. But it wasn't until I was five, during the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, that I really got hooked. It was in New Zealand, and I watched every single game, and I just fell in love with the All Blacks, and they won.

"From that moment on I wanted to be an All Black. But coming from a little town of 700 people out in the country, I just didn't think it could possibly happen.

"When I practised kicking in the back garden, I used to use the house as my goalposts. I did a lot of damage, and my father, who's a builder, got tired of fixing the gutters, so for my eighth birthday he got me a set of goalposts. My parents grew gherkins in the back garden, but he grassed that over and put in a pair of full size goalposts. Best birthday present ever!

"Every day I'd be out there kicking goals until it got dark. I'd kick over trees and from the neighbour's gardens. Looking back on it now, that's where I built by skill set.

"I'll never forget the very first game that I played for the All Blacks. It's like the day that your dream became a reality, and you ask yourself is this actually happening. From the very start, you're taught by players, ex-players and management that the jersey is bigger than the individual.

"You're a custodian of the jersey. It's not yours and it will never be yours, and there's just so much history and tradition behind the All Black jersey that when you're playing for the All Blacks, it's your job to add to the legacy.

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"I never played with Jonah Lomu, but I did play against him, in my first provincial game. I tackled him, well I tried to tackle him, and he knocked me back about five, 10 metres - it was probably the worst tackle of my life!

"Luckily enough I got to know him through friends. And while he was an absolute beast on the rugby field, he was such a kind, caring sort of a person off it. An absolute gentleman, and it was a huge loss. It was incredible the impact he had on world rugby, but he was so humble.

"No one in New Zealand likes a big head. In the All Black environment there's really no room for it, and if there's ever any signs of that happening you'll soon be brought back down to earth.

"From the very start you learn humility. There are these little structures in place, like the fact that we always leave the changing room as clean as it was when you walked in. So often you'll see the likes of Richie McCaw and the coach Steven Hansen sweeping the shed.

"That gives the young guys an amazing example. They'll continue that through their careers and pass those values on down.

"I have two little boys. They're very young, and I don't know whether they'll play rugby or not. My wife played hockey for New Zealand, she's a show jumper, so she might be putting a hockey stick into their hands.

"I'm going to make sure they play sport, that's a non-negotiable, but exactly what sport I don't mind. I'm just going to introduce them to all sorts of different sports, and I'll just be the supportive parent and not push them in one direction or another. But if they decide they want to play rugby, I'll be more than happy. The game has given me such joy.

"I used to say that my life has been so involved in rugby that I'd just like to step away from it when I finish. But I feel differently now. To be honest it's what I know so much about, it's what I love, so it would be silly to just turn my back on it entirely.

"I'm not sure coaching is right for me. I think I'd get frustrated with not being able to put the boots on and get out there! I love the commercial side of sport, it's something I've done a lot of in the last decade, but I'm still not 100pc sure. I'll just spend a bit more time with my family after I retire, and wait and see."

The 2016 Foróige Youth Citizenship Awards will take place on July 2 at the Citywest Hotel. For details see forogie.ie

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