I was dimly aware that the 2003 All Blacks side was announced at midday, but hadn't paid any attention. My thoughts were on having fun with my teammates, so I headed to Camelot Costume Hire on Riccarton Road, renting the stupidest outfit I could find. My phone rang, and it was my old man. I wondered dimly what he might want, and headed outside to take the call.
'Congratulations,' he said.
'For what?' I replied, confused.
'You made the All Blacks!'
I thought he was having me on. The sentence seemed ridiculous. But he'd been listening to the team announcement, and had heard my name called. So that was how I found out I'd been selected. It might seem crazy, in this era, that the team is still named in such a secretive way. But it is - you literally find out by listening to the announcement. As soon as I got off the phone it started blowing up with messages and calls. As with every other selection, it seemed unreal. But this one in particular felt like way too much, way too soon.
What on earth was going on? In less than two years I had advanced from club rugby colts - one of the most marginal levels of rugby's ecosystem - to its pinnacle. It had all happened so quickly. Before I really had a chance to get comfortable at any level, I was on to the next.
My flatmate and I drove back to the house, my head still struggling to process what had happened. When I arrived the phone started ringing. The Crusaders comms people wanted me down to the club headquarters to do some media.
It was the last thing I felt like doing, but I dutifully turned out for a 2pm press session. My hangover was still rattling around, but thankfully Brad Thorn was there to deflect some of the attention. His selection was arguably a bigger deal than my own, given that he'd turned down a spot in the All Blacks in 2001.
We had been the last remaining Crusaders starters without an All Blacks jersey. No longer.
Once I'd limped through my media duties I rejoined the team for our session. It was a pretty surreal day. I remember being briefed on what being an All Black entailed, but I just became numb, hearing about my new responsibilities and opportunities. One thing which made me laugh was being told I could go to the local dealer and pick out a Ford. For free. Only a couple of weeks earlier I'd finally gotten tired of driving around Mum and Dad's old Pulsar, which was returned to my folks (it was retired only very recently, with 375,000km on the clock). I'd gone down to my local Subaru dealer and bought an Impreza WRX, which was the hottest car around at the time. Scribe bought one not long after - it was just something Canterbury boys did when they got their first big cheque.
Three weeks later I was at a Ford dealership, being given the pick of the yard. I chose a Falcon, with only 10km on the clock, which was cool. For reasons I still can't quite fathom, I picked out a hideous greenish-yellow colour. Lightning Strike, it was called. I drove it home to my flat, feeling completely overwhelmed by what was happening to me. Inside I still felt like the shy country boy from Southbridge. But my life seemed to be stuck on fast-forward. It was only a few months since I'd turned 21.THERE WAS no time to enjoy the afterglow of the selection. Because we'd made the final, camp came straight after our end-of-tournament celebrations. The Crusaders had a huge presence in the squad, which helped ease the transition, but, still, when I walked into All Blacks camp for the first time it was incredibly intimidating for someone so young and so green.
The two major groups in the team were the Crusaders and the Blues. Obviously I was very comfortable with all the Canterbury guys by that point. But the Blues were a different story. Mehrts [Andrew Mehrtens] hadn't been selected, controversially, so this was definitively Carlos Spencer's team. He had been in incredible form that year, and the Blues were champions, so it was well-earned. But going from playing alongside someone as supportive and welcoming as Mehrts to Spencer was quite a shock. He's like me - a naturally shy guy, and we were a little wary of each other back then. It wasn't open animosity - I was so obviously the junior - but it was quite different to the way Mehrts and I had clicked.
I was selected at 12, and at that point was hooked on the position. After my year with Canterbury and then the Crusaders, I felt like this was my spot. There was far less pressure, and you scored more tries - a win-win. 12 felt like a more open position, as we had so many great 10s in New Zealand at the time, from Spencer to Mehrts to Tony Brown. What with it being a World Cup year, everyone was that much more keyed-up about job security, so I was happy to stay out of the first-five battle.
We finished up our camp at Mt Maunganui, and within days England had arrived, as part of their Australasian tour. They were a very strong team, led by the guy who was probably the best first-five in the world at that point, Jonny Wilkinson. I was selected on the bench for the first test in Wellington on June 14, which was an honour - but also a reflection of my ability to cover two positions. I didn't get on, and we lost. My first game with an All Blacks jersey on my back, and it was a loss to a team to which you really, really don't want to lose. Wilkinson was incredible that night. He was in his prime and tactically out of this world. He kicked us out of the game, scoring all England's 15 points, for a 15-13 result.
Afterwards there was an incredibly dark feeling in the changing room. I wasn't feeling it to the same extent, because I didn't get on, but you could sense the hurt in everyone: from players to coaches to management. That's when I first realised that All Blacks teams just can't lose. Especially not at home. Especially not to England. It was a horrible sensation - dropping our first game of the year, and doing it at home, to England, in a World Cup year.
I looked around the changing room and everyone's head was between their legs. No one spoke, and I kept even quieter than usual. I was paralysed by the silence, and resolved to sit there until someone else made a move. It took 20 aching minutes before the first people started stirring and having quiet conversations, and with that the tension began to ease off. Everyone was just bracing themselves for the press and the public. It's bad after any loss, but we knew that one would be particularly gruelling.
The following day we reviewed the game, an excruciating process, before one of the coaches quietly told me I'd be starting the following week. I was incredibly happy. In an instant any residual disappointment from the game was gone. Even though the rest of the team nursed the loss for days afterwards, I was floating just to know I was playing the following weekend. In a horrible way the loss made it easier, too, because we could hardly do any worse than we'd done in Wellington.
Next up on June 23 we had Wales at Waikato Stadium, a tough but much more manageable assignment. Hamilton's a rugby town, and the whole city was humming. This doesn't always happen in bigger cities, where a test can get a little lost. My parents, aunt and uncle flew up for the occasion, which made it all the more special. Brad Thorn was making his debut, too, and he was carrying some anger about not having gotten on the previous week. The pair of us were seriously up for the game.
I was given my jersey by Leilani Joyce, one of the world's finest squash players of the time, in the early afternoon. I remember racing back to my room and perching on the end of my bed and just gazing at the jersey. It's such a dreamlike situation, your first All Blacks jersey: the whole country grows up wanting to earn one, and here was mine. Stencilled on the sleeve was the date, the location and the opponent.
For some reason I was more relaxed heading into my All Blacks debut than my first Crusaders game. Maybe it was the Mehrts situation, or because we were coming off a loss. But I didn't feel the same burden of expectation, and instead relished all the theatre. The fireworks, the anthems - and the haka. I snuck to the back, as I wasn't very confident. Even though I'd been doing it in the mirror since I was 5 years old, there's nothing like doing a haka in front of a sold-out stadium to test your technique. Nevertheless, it was an unparalleled thrill; every All Black loves the haka, and knows what it means to the team.
You'd think my memory of my All Blacks debut would be really sharp, but it's anything but. I remember kicking off - then suddenly the match was over. I got to the end and thought, is that it? I was so focused on the moment that I barely registered the wider game itself. Whatever happened, it didn't affect my performance. I scored a try, kicked most of my goals, and ended up with 20 points. A dream debut, with a 55 - 3 win.
I got my jersey ripped early in the game. That was the early days of the new tight-fitting All Blacks jerseys. So I actually played most of the game with number 26 on my back. Then I was given a replacement after the game. For your first test match you play in one and then you're given another to swap with the opposition, because you never want to swap your very first.
But Steve Hansen was the coach of the Welsh team, and he'd been following my progress, so he made their number 12 give me his jersey without expecting one in return. So I've got my ripped one, which got repaired, my spare one, and my number 26 jersey. They're part of my memorabilia collection at the Southbridge club now - part of a whole walk-in cabinet dedicated to me and Alby Anderson.
• Extract from Dan Carter: My Story, with the permission of Upstart Press, $49.99 RRP, available now.