Dan Carter (Getty)
London – Dan Carter switched onto his trusty left boot and sent over a momentum-turning dropped goal from 40 meters. Then he booted a penalty from just inside his limit, before delivering the knockout blow — a right-footed conversion in front of the posts.
In a 10-minute span to close a thrilling Rugby World Cup final on Saturday, the New Zealand flyhalf made up for years of personal hurt on the sport’s highest stage, and cemented his place among rugby’s greats.
Carter kicked 19 points and was the All Blacks’ calming influence in their 34-17 win against Australia at Twickenham. Throw in the man-of-the-match award, and it wasn’t a bad way to bow out if — as expected — this is his last game in the famous black jersey.
Especially considering where he’s come from.
In 2011, Carter was on crutches as he watched New Zealand edge to an 8-7 win over France in the World Cup final at Auckland’s Eden Park. His team was on top of the world but Carter wasn’t, after tearing a groin tendon during the pool stage.
“It was a dark place four years ago,” Carter said, “and I’ve had to work extremely hard to be here today.”
Forget that much-lauded display in New Zealand’s victory over the British and Irish Lions in the second test in 2005. It will be the 2015 World Cup final that defines Carter.
Targeted by some rough-house Wallabies tactics in the first half, Carter — his right knee wrapped in tape — kicked three penalties and a conversion to help the All Blacks into a 21-3 lead, and was still there when they needed him most.
The Wallabies closed to 21-17 when their momentum was halted in the 70th minute by Carter, who took a pass from scrumhalf Aaron Smith, stepped back onto his left, and slotted a dropped goal that sailed over. He’d done the same against South Africa in the semi-finals, when New Zealand was rocking at 12-7 down.
“I practiced a few in the back garden with my old man,” Carter said. “I was yelling at the ball to go over and it did. It gave us breathing space.”
When Australia collapsed a scrum just inside its own half two minutes later, Carter chose to go for goal. He hit it sweetly — he needed to from that distance — and the game was up for Australia.
His last-minute conversion following Beauden Barrett’s try was cheekily knocked over using his right foot. It may be his last touch of the ball in test rugby.
“When we needed him to step up and make some decisions and go out on a bit of a limb and have a crack at a dropped kick, he delivered,” All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said. “Just like last week. He followed it on with the big, long penalty at a pretty important stage, as well.
“He should be really satisfied with what he’s done. He’s left this team in a really good space.”
If that sounded definitive on Carter’s international career, the man himself wasn’t going that far.
He heads to French rugby for a three-year stint at Racing Metro in Paris, where he will not be in contention to play for New Zealand. He will be 37 when the next World Cup comes around in Japan in 2019.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen ranked Carter as the second greatest All Black ever — after Richie McCaw. Others may disagree, for Carter has a world-record points tally of 1,598, which is 352 points more than nearest rival Jonny Wilkinson and won’t be surpassed any time soon.
“This win is right up there with everything I’ve done in my career — it is the ultimate achievement,” Carter said. “It has been an amazing career and to finish like this is hard to believe.”