Dan Carter amazed at crowd of 90,000 for French final

By Campbell Burnes

Even at the ripe old rugby age of 34, Dan Carter is still experiencing firsts in his storied 14-year professional career.

Not only did he last month win a French Top 14 title with Parisian club Racing 92, widely known as Racing Metro, but he also did it on the Nou Camp pitch in Barcelona wearing his club blazer before a crowd in excess of 90,000 - the largest of his career.

Furthermore, Racing won 29-21 against Toulon after playing three-quarters of the decider with just 14 men after halfback Maxime Machenaud was sent off, harshly, for what was deemed a dangerous tackle on Matt Giteau.

That necessitated Pumas wing Juan Imhoff moving to halfback to feed Carter. Somehow, they came through the ordeal, Carter slotting five penalties. He has been kicking goals with metronomic accuracy since he arrived in the French capital last November, earning his keep.

"She was quite a dramatic final and just thankful we came out on top," he said. "I never thought we'd be playing a club game in front of nearly 100,000 people. That was a really special moment for me and all the players involved. You don't realise how much that competition means to the French and the French players.

"It's an amazing club to be part of and to reach those heights is a credit to the team Mr [Jacky] Lorenzetti has built and a great coaching staff and management. To win under those circumstances was fantastic."

Some might have felt pressure to be perfect after winning the Rugby World Cup and commanding such a hefty $3 million salary, but it did not affect Carter's high standards. His body, too, held up, barring a calf injury after the European Champions Cup final defeat to Saracens.

"This was a new challenge, new team, new coaches. It was just what I needed. I felt rejuvenated and absolutely loved it. I was lucky enough to play some decent footy as well."

He wasn't the only 30-something Kiwi to hit the high notes in Paris. Chris Masoe, at 37, played the full 80 minutes of the final at No 8 and wing Joe Rokocoko, at 33, scored a sparkling solo try. Ross Filipo, also 37, was a squad member.

Carter says they are all still loving it and trying to be at their best for the club. Maybe France is not the retirement home it is sometimes made out to be.

Back in New Zealand for a whirlwind tour for business, promotion and seeing family, Carter looked fresh and in top nick. He'd been in Paris, Tokyo and Auckland in the space of five days but looked as though he had stepped out of a health spa, or even thrown himself into the paleo diet espoused by Pete Evans.

"It's been an amazing 18 months, an awesome season, but [I'm now on] a much-needed break. I had a good time in the south of France, where I could relax, and obviously catching up with some friends and family back in New Zealand."

But there is little rest for the world's highest-paid rugby player. The French Top 14 final was on June 26 but he is back into pre-season training with his club next week. The Top 14 kicks off again the same weekend as the Rugby Championship and another long, nine-month season looms for Carter.

He arrived in Paris in the wake of the November terrorist attacks and flew out in the aftermath of the Nice killings, but Carter feels France is as safe as can be expected at the moment.

"Obviously it's not ideal, but you've just got to be smart and avoid crowds and certain things. Walking around Paris, nothing's changed. There's a lot more security noticeable, but it's still a great place to live."

With a passion for fashion and travel and a desire for relative anonymity, Paris and Dan Carter seem a good fit.

*The Herald spoke to Dan Carter on Waiheke Island where, as a Healtheries ambassador, he was presenting a cheque for $10,000 to the local high school for sports gear.

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