All Blacks seeking to make history at 2015 World Cup in England
Star flyhalf Dan Carter missed most of 2011 tournament with injury
Rugby's world champions recorded 14-game perfect year in 2013
Carter is the sport's all-time leading international points-scorer
The All Blacks and their fans are clear on one thing, says Dan Carter: the goal is to make history and become the first rugby nation to win back-to-back World Cups.
For many players, such lofty expectations could threaten to derail the whole mission.
Not so Carter, who is one of the game’s true superstars.
“I absolutely love the pressure that not only the media and the public put on us, but also the pressure that we put on ourselves as a team,” the world’s all-time leading point-scorer told CNN.
On an ambassadorial visit to London, the New Zealander is taking a six-month break from the game as he seeks to revive his battered body for next year’s title defense in England and Wales.
Next October’s final will be at Twickenham, the headquarters of English rugby – a place where the 32-year-old has endured both highs and lows in his career.
Winning in London
Heading abroad to another World Cup where the All Black are certain favorites – following their steamrollering 14-game perfect year in 2013 – Carter has every reason to be optimistic.
But any All Blacks fan knows better, having watched mystified as similarly all-conquering teams have failed to capture the trophy except for the two occasions the tournament has taken place on home turf – and they had an agonizing 24-year gap between those successes.
Carter knows there are a host of teams now hoping to seize on any sign of All Black weakness: he lists his old Tri-Nations rivals Australia and South Africa, plus England, Ireland, Wales, and even Fiji as teams that could cause an upset.
But, he says, the year ahead is about being ready for the challenge.
“We had a great couple of years and the hype is starting to build in New Zealand – especially as a player – about the World Cup so it’s going to be a challenging year in 2014.”
Lifting the cup
Carter had the bittersweet pleasure of watching the All Blacks’ triumph in Auckland in 2011 while sitting in the stand, having missed the majority of the tournament with a groin injury.
Stephen Donald, who kicked what was ultimately the winning penalty against France, was called up to the squad for the final due to injuries suffered by Carter’s replacements.
“I’ve been part of the squad that’s won the World Cup before so, you know, that’s a huge achievement,” Carter says, diplomatically.
This time he’s hoping to get the jump on the injury problems, taking a sabbatical from the game after his most recent Achilles strain ahead of the international program, with the All Blacks’ southern-hemisphere Rugby Championship title defense starting in August.
“Physically and mentally, I’m in a great space,” he says.
That Achilles injury came on the occasion of his 100th international cap – a tense showdown with England at Twickenham in November 2013, where the All Blacks came out on top 30-22.
What should have been a milestone celebration for the No. 10 ended as he hobbled off the pitch with just 25 minutes played.
A year prior, at the same venue, England shocked New Zealand 38-21 to end the Kiwis’ 20-match unbeaten run.
It was England’s first win over the All Blacks at the “Cabbage Patch” since 2002 – and Carter has plenty of previous better memories of the hallowed venue.
“I love playing at Twickenham. It’s one of my favorite stadiums,” he said.
“It’s a real rugby environment, rugby culture is everything to do with Twickenham.
“You know – I’ve had some great success there. Lost one game there a couple of years ago but apart from that I’ve had a lot of success at Twickenham.”
Carter is delighted that when he finally vacates the No. 10 shirt for good, there will be a stream of worthy successors.
“The beauty is, there’s a lot of depth in my position and with the injuries that I’ve had in the last couple of years it’s given the opportunity for a lot of young guys coming through,” he said.
“There’s Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Tom Taylor that have all had roles in the last year or two and every time they’ve had the opportunity, they’ve played extremely well.”
But don’t start looking for replacements just yet: Carter, who has scored 1,440 points for the All Blacks, says he’d love to keep playing for another four or five years “at least.”
After the World Cup, he’ll consider his future. It could mean a return to Europe, where he spent an injury-shortened spell with French club Perpignan in 2008-09 – or even a move to Japan.
Until 2015 he’ll be staying in New Zealand, and preparing for the challenge to come.
“The pinnacle of any rugby player is to reach those heights but to do it away from home, two tournaments in a row would be something pretty special,” Carter said.
“I’ll be working as hard as I can to try and be there if the All Blacks can reach that milestone.”