The stuff of champions: Dan Carter

By Dylan Cleaver

Dan Carter is among the highest-paid players in New Zealand and is acknowledged as one of the greatest to have pulled on the black jersey, but it all started in a sleepy Canterbury hamlet with a special birthday present.

Carter holds the world record for points in test rugby. Photo / Greg Bowker
Carter holds the world record for points in test rugby. Photo / Greg Bowker

As 8th birthday presents go, this was a bit harder than wrapping the latest Lego offering or a replica All Black jersey.

Transported to a property on Broad St, in the tiny Canterbury hamlet of Southbridge, were a set of full-sized rugby posts, painted blue and white in honour of the local club.

Without wanting to detract from the delights of the Ellesmere region, the posts have become a bit of a tourist trap. When asked whether the family would mind if a photographer popped around to take a picture of the posts in the backyard, Neville Carter was unperturbed.

"We've arrived home during the day to an Asian family sitting under the posts having a picnic," he laughed.

Why not? If you're looking for the genesis of Carter's languid form of genius, under the 'H' is as good a place as any to start. Picture him in shorts and bare feet, staring up at his new posts, shaking out the fingers a la Grant Fox, keeping in vogue as most goalkicking wannabes of the day, as he prepared his approach to the ball.

Carter, 30, who holds the world record for points in test rugby with 1360, was one of those kids who always had a ball in his hand. When he wasn't at the domain he was kicking the ball around, or more accurately, over the house.

"He would dropkick the ball east to west over the house," Neville Carter says. Giving an insight into the precision that would later come to define his efforts in the black jersey, Carter never broke a window, though the spouting took a bit of a hammering.

There was something else that had to be factored in: the section next door was used to grow potatoes and gherkins, which would then be sold around town leading up to Christmas. But up came the tubers and cucumis and down went the grass - that was the end of that little revenue stream.

The decision has reaped its own rich rewards.

Along with Richie McCaw, Carter is the highest-paid player in New Zealand and is acknowledged as one of the greatest to have pulled on the famed black jersey. Last year, in the lead up to the World Cup, the Herald ranked Carter No 5 on a list of all-time All Black greats. By the time he hangs up his size nines for good, he will probably have climbed that list.

"The beauty of living in a small community is that all your mates are not far away. I had seven or eight mates that used to come around to my house - because we had the posts - almost every day after school," Carter said at the time. "We'd play games of rugby, league and having kicking competitions, everything."

Indeed, Carter senior said the hardest thing to do was getting Dan inside as darkness fell. "He'd be out there for hours and hours, every day after school and in the weekends."

The posts are still standing tall. Carter, when he comes home to see the folks for any length of time, will bring a bag of balls to keep sharp. Truth be told, he's probably just happy reliving his youth, before life became a more complicated combination of contracts and commitments.

Before long, cars will roll past, windows will retract and smartphones will start snapping.

Even in sleepy Southbridge, you can't escape the paparazzi.

- NZ Herald

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