How good a player was Dan Carter? Our only undefeated All Black coach, Sir Fred Allen, was unequivocal. "He's the best first-five I've ever seen, bar none. He's a natural footballer, one out of the top drawer. He's so cool, and he does everything so right. Hell, he's even terrific on defence."
Carter now retires as a player who's earned every word of praise, and every honour heaped on him during a remarkable career that saw him play 112 tests over 13 years in the All Black jersey.
I once asked 1987 World Cup winning five-eighths Warwick Taylor if he could see any weak areas in Carter's game.
Taylor paused, laughed quietly, and said, "I do worry that he might be too brave. He's not a big guy, but he tackles like a loose forward."
There are a lot of remarkable aspects to Carter, and the lack of fear on the field is just one of them.
Carter has often said that he was amazed at how quickly his own career took off. As he noted in his 2006 book, when he was first selected for Canterbury as a 20-year-old, he wondered "what on earth was I doing here? This was the top table, and here I was. I didn't dare utter a word."
His reservations weren't shared by many. After his first game for Canterbury in Christchurch, against East Coast in a 2002 Ranfurly Shield match, I wrote, "You hesitate to put too much pressure on such a young man, by praising him too lavishly. But when you see someone who can step off both feet, throws a pass with laser beam accuracy, and scores a try by fending one tackler off with the right hand, the next with the left, and then swerves round the last defender, it's very hard to keep quiet about it.
"In Canterbury, Carter's being compared to the teenaged Andrew Mehrtens. I'd go further back, to the first appearances for Counties in 1971 of a fresh-faced converted fullback called Bruce Robertson, who would find world fame as a brilliant centre. Like Robertson throughout his glittering career, there seems to be extra time created just for Carter on a rugby field."
It took no time for better judges than me to take positive action, and before the end of the year Carter was in the Crusaders. By the end of 2003 he was an All Black, and the rest is widely-admired history.
What's been especially noteworthy is that in the process of building a brilliant career, Carter managed to simultaneously be a favourite of the gossip pages, glossy underwear advertisements, swooning women of all ages, and grumpy old male rugby-tragics.
An enormous help was that during his startling trajectory from humble club player to international star his ego never grew with his fame.
A man with tickets on himself might have just smiled and nodded when in 2014 a television crew joined him and three other All Blacks on a visit to a group of Dunedin women knitting jerseys for charity.
Carter sat down and casually noted that "I used to knit when I was at school. I made a scarf, some socks, some slippers."
There's a wonderfully-Kiwi back story to Carter's success. He grew up in the little rural town of Southbridge, outside Christchurch. When he was eight his father, Neville, dug over a potato and gherkin patch and built pipe goalposts for young Daniel to practise his kicking. Long after he became an All Black, Carter still slung a pair of boots in the car when he visited his parents, so he and his Dad could revisit the childhood days.
During the 2011 World Cup, visitors to Southbridge could pay $45 for a beer and a tour of the local rugby club, and then have a kick or two at the old posts under Neville's supervision.
Carter hit his first widely recognised peak with a test in Wellington in 2005 with the Lions in which he was marked by Jonny Wilkinson. There are games when everything flows one way. That July night belonged so much to Carter, who scored a brilliant try and basically didn't make even one error, that fate decided poor Wilkinson would have to leave the field when he was injured in a failed attempt to tackle Carter.
Carter played at four World Cups, and in 2007 and 2011, both were ended by injury.
By far the most dramatic exit was in 2011. It had been decided that for the pool game against Canada in Wellington Carter would captain the All Blacks for the first time.
Carter's habit was to finish the last light run before a big game with about 15 shots at goal. His long-time Crusaders' teammate Andy Ellis told me earlier in '11 that "If there's one thing people might be surprised by it's how hard Dan works at his game. There's nobody who spends as much time as he does on individual skill work. He's really laidback in everything he does, except spending time on his own after team training. Then he's a perfectionist."
On that Saturday afternoon at Rugby League Park in Newton, Carter decided to take just four kicks. On the last he suddenly screamed in pain, and dropped to the ground. A scan of Carter's groin revealed he'd torn the tendon that attaches the adductor longus muscle to the bone. The muscle pulls the leg inwards so was a vital part of his round-the-corner kicking style.
He later told a press conference, "It's gut wrenching, because of the pure randomness of it. I have never had any adductor or hip problems in the past. I've been constantly asking myself why this happened, and I don't know the answer. I was just going through my usual routine."
Sport doesn't always provide anything like a happy ending, but it did for Carter in the All Blacks. He aimed for the 2015 World Cup, where he would be 33 years old. Critics sniped, one commenting that "What happens with a bloke like Carter, when the legs can't keep up with the legend?"
Carter carried on, and in the campaign of 2015, one that echoed a lot of the joy that came with the first All Black World Cup victory in 1987, he was a key man. In the 2015 final at Twickenham he'd score 19 points, as the All Blacks drubbed Australia, 34-17.
And the last kick of his international career was the perfect touch to prove that, while you can take the boy out of Southbridge, there will always be a bit of Southbridge in the man.
In the dying moments of the final, Beauden Barrett scored a runaway try. Carter has always been a left footed kicker but with the game totally in the bag, when Liam Messam ran on the kicking tee for the conversion, he grinned and said, "Are you going to kick it with your right?"
In his 2015 biography Carter says that he suddenly saw a line straight back to his days learning to kick in the old potato patch.
"I lined it up, walked in, planted, and swung through with my right." The kick sailed over, and that was how he ended his time as an All Black legend.