The loneliness of the long-distance kicker. A torture for so many; an exhilarating thrill for Dan Carter to this day.
While Ben Healy would have loved to have been anywhere but the Aviva on a fateful day last Saturday after his last missed kick, Carter almost longed to be there.
“I’ve seen some kickers who didn’t want to be there in those moments,” says the 40-year-old world champion Kiwi-Out half.
“I wish nothing more than to be there for that shootout last weekend with all eyes on you and all the pressure of teamwork on your shoulders.
“As a kid I used to pressure myself in the garden to earn a penalty to win a World Cup final. And so I could keep coming back to that moment in my mind.
“They didn’t happen often, but when they happened, I got that pressure, I wanted that feeling.”
He’s still lucky down to the last detail.
Even now he can be as content as when his father Neville built a set of posts in his vegetable patch in his back garden in Southland for an eager nine-year-old to score 30-metre goals until nightfall.
“That’s what I lived for.”
It still is.
So much so that last month he spent 24 sleepless hours helping UNICEF put shot after shot on target – a total of 1,598, a number that stands for his world record of 112 caps in a 12-year career. None were missing. A life in a day? More like a day in the life.
“I absolutely love it. People are noticing that now. I’ve been retired for over a year and now I’m probably spending more time practicing my pedaling than ever before. I’m such a perfectionist that I love pedaling, striving for perfection.
“It’s a very lonely place. Lots of people watching a game and the guy kicks or misses the winning goal. You don’t see the hours and days and a thousand kicks that led to this moment.
“I had hundreds of thousands of kicks. It’s a passion of mine. It’s a big part of who I am as a person. Now taking my bag of balls to the park is like meditation. It’s my happy place for an hour.
“It will always be a part of my life until my body stops kicking. And I think the fact that I could go 24 hours without sleep means there’s life left in those legs!”
Life has a different purpose now.
The meditative bag of balls can only fill a limited portion of the void in retirement; Fatherhood ensures that there is more time for the family, but also concern for the children of others.
That’s where his DC10 fund, in partnership with UNICEF, comes in; Her primary focus is providing water, sanitation and hygiene in the Pacific Islands, aid to Tongan tsunami victims and resources to empower and educate the underprivileged indigenous children of Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Like most sporting idols, Carter contributed what he could while the rays of celebrity smashed; He needed to bring a flashlight to his soul to discover his true purpose.
And so, when he finally had time in 2019, a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan hit him like a punch in the stomach.
“I thought I was just going there to put a smile on their faces, but it was completely the other way around,” he says.
“Instead they inspired me, all this hardship and they still smile while I complain about being tired or hungry. When you have children, that makes you so thankful.
“There were two moments that really got to me. A little eight-year-old boy I met was on his way. I asked where the school was but his parents said he went to work.
“He was raising his family and I was like, ‘But how could he have a future without an education?’
“And then there was a girl in another family, much older but not much better off either. And she was effectively forced into marriage. That was the only way they could earn an income. This is not the normal life we are used to.”
Carter’s life, at least athletically, rarely seemed normal. The distance from the glare of the headlight to the darkness of the shadows seemed short.
He came on the scene in 2003 when his nation was still wondering why they hadn’t added a second World Cup.
Dublin Whistler Alan Lewis politely warned him with a ‘hurry up’ warning ahead of his first kick in international rugby, in Hamilton v Wales; an urgency that almost reflects a nation in permanent existential crisis.
Carter peaked early and often; I competed in the Lions series in 2005 and have rarely seen a performance as successful as the second Wellington Test.
“At 23 you are naive, you have such an openness and freedom and there is such a flow. Everything you try works. So as a spectacle it was hard to beat as a complete performance.”
He ruled the world, but his team didn’t; In 2007 they were ripped off by France; In 2011 he was shattered by an injury. Sadness invades his happy spot when he gets a kick in the groin while working out.
The lonely eyes of a nation had turned to him; now they drowned in tragic tears. He spoke to them at a press conference that resembled a religious affair. “If there is anything I can encourage you to do,” her Savior said, “it is to keep going.”
They did it, aided by the recruitment of a fly-half who had gone (fly) fishing.
In 2015, after winning the World Championship without him, some averted their lonely eyes from Carter and urged him to retire gracefully.
The chosen one now became the defiant. His career ended as it began. In his back garden.
Neville had told his little boy to use his “other” foot sometimes. Carter’s final act was a right-footed conversion. top of the world, there.
“Being able to achieve so much more,” he says today, “controlling a game made me so proud to have evolved my game in such a crucial situation. Doing small things that made a big impact. It wasn’t like I made it through, I ended up that high.”
He sees the same instincts in Jonathan Sexton; the Irishman joined Racing 92 before his great rival found European fame as owner Jacky Lorenzetti; neither half would succeed. In fact, Carter was injured in 2018 while watching Sexton claim a fourth star at Leinster.
“That was the main reason why I went to France,” he admits. “That was something I would have liked to have achieved. It seems pretty selfish, but I wanted to be with a team that strives to be successful in Europe.
“As for Johnny, I was very pleased to see him perform consistently well throughout the Six Nations. When you get to that stage in your career, more people doubt and ask when you’re done.
“The fact that he is still playing at the highest level shows his mental strength. He still has things he wants to achieve, he still gets fulfillment from playing. And he has evolved.
“He can’t train like he did when he was 22 and that’s a nice realization. Rest days are rest days. And you’re working on why? why are you playing
“My inspiration hit a high point. And the need to be challenged, whether by Joey Carbery or your coaches. Johnny needs this. You need a purpose.
“His Ireland has momentum this summer. The All Blacks are really starting to build up some combinations and pick their best players against high profile opponents this far before the World Cup and that’s what Ireland brings. It’s a formative series.”
But first a European engagement. Ronan O’Gara, once his racing coach, will be up against his adopted team in Lens and that calls for caution.
“When training is live he has this incredible rugby experience from such a long career that makes him see things faster and better than most coaches. So this is world class.
“He had a lot of work to do at Racing when he was young and studying, but he had a growth mindset of always wanting to learn.
“And that’s why I was so happy to go into his office and just talk about rugby, about his Irish days, I talk about my all-black days. Share experience.
“And then making the bold decision to go to New Zealand and become an assistant at Crusaders shows that he really wanted to learn and grow as a coach.
“He’s not one of those coaches who say ‘My way is the only way.’ He wants to learn and grow and allow the players and the culture to push the team forward, rather than typical French coaches who say you have to do things a certain way. He listens and is always willing to learn.”
They sense that Carter, truly one of the greatest the sport has ever seen, listened and learned more than anyone in his lifetime.
Using his gifts to help others may yet be his greatest achievement.
For more information on Dan Carter’s UNICEF projects, visit and to bid on the boots used during his kickathon last month, visit
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/dan-carter-now-getting-his-kicks-from-doing-good-for-others-41648604.html Dan Carter now gets his kick from doing good things for others