As soon as Dan Carter walks through the doors of Racing 92's training base, he hands over his shoes to the receptionist who places them into a cubby hole. Every player has their own named cubby hole, every player is required to dispense with their footwear.

It's all about players leaving their outside life behind and showing their commitment to the team. In many ways, Carter left his footwear in New Zealand when he moved to France. The 34-year-old left behind his previous life as Dan Carter: All Black, to his new life as Dan Carter: former All Black.

It's exactly what he wanted, when he signed to join Racing 92 after last year's World Cup. He might be World Rugby's Player of the Year but in France he's mostly just another face in a multi-cultural landscape. He admits to loving the anonymity.

"When I was looking at various options of where to play post New Zealand, there were a few options available but the appeal of living in Paris in such a big international city is exactly what we wanted," he says over lunch at Racing 92's base at Haunts-de-Seine just south of Paris. "As much as we love New Zealand, and it will always be home, it's a rugby-mad country and to escape that for a couple of years has been really refreshing both for me and the family. And it is a great city. We love living here."


A glance at his social media pages suggests he's immersing himself in the Paris lifestyle. As the club's marquee signing, Carter spends as much time as he does training attending promotional work for the club's sponsors, not that it's all tough.

Carter and wife Honor were guests at the recent French Open tennis final at Roland Garros, although they had to leave before the end to make it to Racing's final regular season game against Montpellier, and he was spent time in pit lane at this month's Monaco Grand Prix. He understands his responsibilities as a professional but it also allows him to play the role of tourist.

He's still retaining a connection with New Zealand. Much to the despair of his French teacher, Carter couldn't resist getting UK Sky TV installed at his home so he could watch Super Rugby and the All Blacks.

He's also Dan Carter: All Blacks fan.

The first five-eighths has been a big success since joining Racing 92, helping them reach the final of Europe's premier club competition the Champions Cup. They also finished fourth in the Top 14 regular season, qualifying for the playoffs. Racing beat Toulouse in the first round of the playoffs thanks largely to Carter's boot and he then kicked the winning conversion in extra time against Clermont to send Racing into next weekend's Top 14 final.

It has helped having Jacky Lorenzetti's money behind the team - the Swiss businessman is said to have assets in excess of $900 million - and the club have gone from the French second division to near the top of the Top 14 over the past decade. Racing will soon have Europe's largest indoor stadium with the 40,000 seat Arena 92 due to be completed in September next year.

Lorenzetti made Carter the highest paid player in world rugby earning around $3.5 million a year, joining a United Nations outfit filled with Kiwis, South Africans, Argentines and even Welsh players on the star-studded roster.

Carter found familiar faces in former All Blacks team-mates Joe Rokocoko, Chris Masoe and Casey Laulala, along with fellow Kiwis Ben Tameifuna and Ross Filipo.

"Yeah, it is cool," he admits. "It's pretty similar with most Top 14 sides these days. There's a big international influence, especially here, but it's still a French culture. All our reviews and plays on the field are still in French, which is challenging, but there are enough foreign players to be able to help me and help each other translate things and get my message across.

"[Former Ireland first five-eighths] Ronan O'Gara is on the coaching staff and has been a go-to person for me. He speaks French and often I go to him if I want to get a point across and he can translate it. Then all the other South Africans, Argentines, Kiwis and Welsh have been here long enough to know what's going on when speaking French."

Beyond the reception at Racing 92's training base is a state of art facility, featuring a state-of-the-art gym, phsyio rooms, two player restaurants complete with wine cellar, bar, pool and a world-class training pitch.

They even employ a Michelin star chef.

But even after spending only a couple of hours at the club, it's apparent everyone at Racing is part of one big family. I was greeted with a smile, a handshake, a greeting from every person I met from players and officials to kitchen staff, and was made to feel welcome. Watching Carter arrive at the restaurant, it was obvious he was treated no differently to the academy players who were already dining.

For all the frills inside the training base, there was surprisingly little in the car park, with a dozen relatively modest Prius hybrids in the club's parking lot. They are standard issue for the players, including Carter, thanks to one of the club's sponsors.

"It's pretty amazing the facilities," Carter says. "We are very lucky and have an owner of the club who has a huge vision for the club and provides everything he possibly can to help the team succeed.

Honor Carter, chef Michelin chef Guy Savoy and Dan Carter. Photo / Twitter
Honor Carter, chef Michelin chef Guy Savoy and Dan Carter. Photo / Twitter

"It's quite different [to New Zealand] and I enjoy it, actually. You kind of rock up in your casual clothes and once you are at work you remove your shoes and get into your working outfit. It's all washed and the attire you have here is all laundered and so it's quite nice. There are a lot of traditions with the club that have been going on for many years and it's a bit different than what I'm used to, but I love it."

While a contract in Japan could have been just as lucrative and less taxing on the body, Carter is pleased he opted for the rigours of the Top 14.

"As long as I'm playing, I want to be the best and successful, making the most of every day and every competition I am playing in and that's why I wanted to come to this club. It's very professional and has a huge vision to be successful. That was my attitude from day one since I arrived.

"I was coming off a high with the World Cup but coming into a completely new environment, outside of my comfort zone. I was no longer being coached by the same coaching group and playing with the team-mates I knew so well. To come and live and play and experience new challenges in a new environment was just the motivation I needed and I actually felt really refreshed when I arrived. I had a great couple of great months when I arrived. It's exactly what I needed at that stage of my career."

In his prime, Carter always appeared to have more time than others. He could see a gap before it even opened up and was good enough to take advantage.

He showed at last year's World Cup he could still excel, even after periods when his body wouldn't oblige and others when pundits felt the All Blacks coaches should opt for a change in the No 10 jersey.

The pace of the game in France now appeals to Carter.

"The game is a lot slower here in France and suits me, to be honest," he says chuckling. "But it's very physical so those demands there are extremely tough.

"It's a very long and demanding season. We often play a campaign where Super Rugby is only half a year at the most and here you are playing 10 or 11 months week in, week out. It's challenging and you need a lot of depth in your squad.

"I played here seven years ago down south [at Perpignan during a sabbatical from New Zealand] and the game was forward orientated and the 10s would kick to the corner and that would be about it when reviewing the match. The teams here now, including Racing, have at least got the willingness to play with the ball a lot more, so that has been really encouraging and something new since I've been here."

While Carter has been well looked after (the club employ former L'Equipe rugby writer and Kiwi Ian Borthwick as an advisor to the president, and is also tasked with looking after the foreign players) it has still been a major adjustment coming from laidback New Zealand.

"Just accepting that things are done differently. Being involved in New Zealand rugby for so long, we do it a certain way and that's what you become accustomed to. Things are just done differently here. At times it can be frustrating but that's the way it's done. You are not here to try to change things. It's just a matter of settling into the way they do things and, if you can add value, then you make your little points.

"I have seen and heard players come over here and try to change the world because what they think what they do down under is the way it should be done. If you can slowly over time make a few adjustments through your experience, you can hopefully help grow the team."

Matt Brown was in Paris thanks to Emirates