Fairytale ending for Carter

Date published: November 1 2015

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Fairytale endings don't happen for everyone – just ask Paul O'Connell and Victor Matfield – but for Dan Carter Saturday's World Cup final was the crowning moment of a magical career.

Steve Hansen said after New Zealand had retained their title that Richie McCaw was the greatest All Black of all time, with Carter a close second.

There's no question that King Richie has probably had a greater influence on the game than any player in the modern era, but nothing can compare to watching Carter at his best.

For many it seemed inevitable that he would bow out in the perfect circumstances, man of the match in the final as the All Blacks went back-to-back, and yet much of his career has been defined by World Cup disappointment.

A tender 21-year-old right back in 2003, he was a bit-part player for most of that campaign, and an unused sub when George Gregan mocked the All Blacks with his infamous 'Four more years' taunt.

Two years later, Carter had taken centre stage, and during the 2005 Lions tour produced arguably the greatest all-round fly-half performance we've seen as Sir Clive Woodward's rabble were thoroughly embarrassed.

At the peak of his physical powers, he dismantled the Lions, and yet during his next World Cup opportunity he hobbled off during New Zealand's quarter-final defeat to France.

Arguably no game has been more important in building this All Black team than that loss, McCaw's captaincy has been transformed, while New Zealand have learned to be pragmatic when necessary.

Without peer in the position, 2011 should have been the opportunity for Carter to put things right, but while he ended up a World Cup winner, two pool games followed by a torn groin muscle made for a bittersweet tournament.

Carter explained before this final that the last four years have been building towards this one event, including a sabbatical to rest a battered body, as well as the incredible faith of the All Black selectors.

Things may have been different had Aaron Cruden stayed fit, and with every injury and aborted return, it looked more and more likely that this would be a tournament too far, that the greatest ten we've seen would never play on the biggest stage.

We should have known otherwise.

Functional, if not outstanding during the Rugby Championship, Carter then eased into the World Cup during the pool stages before blowing France away in the quarter-finals.

He might not have the pace of that 2005 Lions tour, but when he ghosted through one gap, fended off Pascal Papé and delivered a backhanded flick to send Julian Savea over, the similarities were unavoidable.

He was sublime in Cardiff, but on that night New Zealand would have won with anyone at ten, so dominant were they.

The same cannot be said of their clash with the Springboks a week later. 

Trailing 12-7 at the break after a near flawless tactical first half from the Boks, the All Blacks never panicked.

Carter, who has never been the most natural of drop kickers – go back to his winning effort against Ireland in 2012 for proof – spotted an opportunity early in the second half and snapped over a drop goal after scrappy ball from a lineout.

Genius he may be, but Carter has also taken a skill with which he struggled and turned it into a strength for the biggest occasion of them all.

A week after turning the tide against the Boks – and just as important was his strip of Schalk Burger that set up Beauden Barrett's winning try – he was at it again.

Having seemed in complete control at 21-3, the comeback looked to be on when Australia scored two converted tries while Ben Smith was in the bin to get back to within four.

The game was going down to the wire, but Carter took the team on his shoulders and fired over a second drop goal in as many weeks, sending over the dagger from 40 metres that would end Australia's charge.

A 50-metre penalty a couple of minutes later sealed the win, and Carter even allowed himself a little fun with a right-footed conversion to Barrett's final try.

With that, the most complete fly-half of his, or any, generation said goodbye to the international arena. 

Hansen said his career would not be defined by Saturday's game, but a World Cup winner and man of the match in the final seems a fitting way for the greatest of them all to bow out.

by Paul Eddison

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