First-five recalls a special night in the Tron as clash with England looms

After 99 tests and all of the immense highs and lows that have gone with them, Dan Carter's debut 11 years ago remains his most memorable match. For the player regarded as the world's best first-five, that night in Hamilton against Wales when he wore the No12 jersey is his most special.

"Without a doubt," he replied when asked of his career highlight. "The 99 test matches I've been involved in, my favourite and most special was my test debut. A lot of players would give the same answer. I have very fond memories of that day."

Since that first outing in the Waikato - and for the record it wasn't a bad debut, (see numbers) after a nervous start when referee Alan Lewis told him to hurry up with his first shot at goal - Carter has gone on to become a world record test points scorer and a global brand worth millions.

Asked whether it was nerves or his relaxed demeanour which prompted him to take so long over his first kick in a black jersey, he replied: "I didn't want to put a foot wrong, basically, and that was my first chance to get my first kick. I remember my first game for the Crusaders I missed my first couple because I was so nervous I rushed them. I deliberately wanted to take my time and give myself the best chance to get it and thankfully it sailed through."


Carter, a new father to son Marco, will have his dad Neville in the Twickenham stands for his big day, but he refuses to get carried away with what he referred to as the "hype" of his milestone.

The boy from Southbridge might be used to the world stage but he's not one to get carried away. The rollercoaster of his career including the lows of his three World Cup disappointments and related injuries have taught him that.

"I'm just trying to put it all aside and concentrate on what I can do for the team ... After the game, that's when I can enjoy it and embrace it a bit more but I'm just really working hard in not getting caught up in all the hype."

Gallery: Carter through the years

His coach Steve Hansen was more forthcoming.

"He's probably been the greatest No10 to play for New Zealand and probably the world," he said. "He's been special to this group for a long time. He's gone through a tough 18 months where he's had some wretched luck with injuries. We'd have thought he'd have his 100th game well and truly by now, but it's coming on Saturday and hopefully he gets through the next couple of days. Being the man he is, he doesn't want to make a big fuss of it so we'll celebrate it afterwards and he'll go down as the fifth [All Blacks'] centurion, so a pretty special effort."

Carter added of his rapid ascent to worldwide fame and the commercial commitments and rewards which followed: "Growing up in a small town like Southbridge, it's definitely not something that you think about. It sort of happened naturally. But all the commercial things that I do, I always make sure that it doesn't get in the way of my No1 priority and that's rugby."

A career in numbers
99 caps
1433 points
95 Crusaders' appearances (debut 2003 v Hurricanes)
1272 Super Rugby points

Career highlight: Test debut v Wales in Hamilton in 2003 (1 try, 6 cons, 1 pen)

Best match: 2nd test v British and Irish Lions in Wellington in 2005 (2 tries, 4 cons, 5 pens).

From the Herald archive
Herald chief rugby writer Wynne Gray on Dan Carter's test debut against Wales in Hamilton"
He almost went into a trance before his first international kick at goal. He took so long that referee Alan Lewis whispered a hurry-up.

"It was good to get that one and I sped up after that," Carter said.

He showed his speed, fend, power and passing in collecting 20 points, but that was his job if he wanted to be classed as a test player.

What he did underline was the value of a multi-skilled link in midfield between Carlos Spencer and Tama Umaga.

Chris Rattue's player profile of Carter ahead of the 2003 Rugby World Cup
Dan's time, or down time.

Rising Canterbury star Daniel Carter could be a World Cup star in the making, but then again he is more likely to have the odd cameo, and even be relegated to the cast of extras.

Carter is the wunderkind waiting in the wings, the latest off the Canterbury production line of inside backs.

If injury strikes Carlos Spencer or Aaron Mauger then Carter will be thrust into the limelight. Maybe a dramatic loss of form, with Spencer the more likely candidate there, will propel Carter into the limelight.

If not, he will do bench time and John Mitchell has already shown this year that reserves don't necessarily get game time even in the free-flow modern era.

Take Carter's opening test season.

When Mauger had injury problems, Carter was a main man, scoring tries and kicking goals. Once Mauger returned, Carter's Popeye biceps and blank expression were hardly sighted.

What might really help his cause at this stage is if he shows up as some kind of goalkicking genius. The All Blacks would kill for that.

His record was about 65 per cent in the Super 12, where he bungled a couple of vital shots in the final. He has been marginally better in the test arena.

Unlike the tricky Spencer, Carter is Canterbury cool. Like Mauger, his game is built around efficiency, doing the basics really well, choosing the right options, then striking when the chance arises - rather than treating all the world as a stage.

So Carter is an option, but one Mitchell is unlikely to take on the big occasions. Spencer showed his linebreaking class against the great English defence in Wellington this year and has remained in command since.

Mauger is a certified class act.

Carter's time will come, and patience is a virtue he seems to have plenty of.