SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: How Dan Carter tamed my Lions and was the best ever… he was a nerveless goalkicker but also a devastating strike-runner and try-scorer with the speed of a Test wing – the best attacking 10 I ever saw
Dan Carter announced himself as a truly world-class talent during the Lions tour of 2005 when he starred in the first two Tests.
His 33 points in the second Test at Wellington, including two brilliant tries, was off the Richter scale and possibly the best individual performance I have ever witnessed at Test level. The Perfect 10.
Ahead of the tour I don’t think anybody in Britain and Ireland had really clocked the true depth of his talent. Until then he had played mainly at centre and kicked a good number of goals. He kicked a stack of penalties against England when we were on tour in 2004 but I don’t recall a scarily good superstar player at that stage. He was just a reliable Kiwi centre and a prolific kicker.
Dan Carter announced himself as a truly world-class talent during the Lions tour of 2005
His 33 points in second Test at Wellington, including two great tries, was off the Richter scale
Ahead of the tour, I don’t think anybody in Britain and Ireland had really clocked his true talent
That changed when he switched to 10 and New Zealand moved away from the brilliant but slighlty erratic Carlos Spencer. It was his big chance and he seized it with both hands. For the next 10 years he treated us to all his talent and ended with a world record 1,598 points, including 29 Test tries.
That last statistic is probably Carter’s USP. He was a great, nerveless goalkicker but he was also a devastating strike-runner and try-scorer with the speed of a Test wing — as well as a creator and manufacturer of tries.
He had an aura but he had his struggles and challenges as well. He played in two losing World Cup semi-finals in 2003 and 2007 and ended the 2007 competition with lingering calf and achilles issues that he had to manage.
Then came the 2011 World Cup. Everything was going swimmingly in the early matches until he tore his groin at training ahead of a pool game against Canada. Carter then had to watch the rest of the tournament on home soil from the stands and although New Zealand went on to win that must have been difficult.
It was potentially a career-ending injury but he set his sights on the 2015 tournament. A young gun called Beauden Barrett was pressing hard for a starting spot but he held him off and 10 years after he tore the Lions apart he again spearheaded a superb New Zealand side.
My fondest memory of the final that year was when Australia, after a slow start, came right back into the match and had closed to within a score with just 10 minutes to go. For the first time you could sense New Zealand wobbling a little as they looked to move the ball right some 40 yards out — more in hope than expectation.
He was a great, nerveless goalkicker but he was also a devastating strike-runner and try-scorer
All Blacks legend Carter has announced his retirement from rugby with immediate effect
The Aussie defence were all over them, the momentum of the game had changed, but Carter, seemingly without even looking up, just stepped off his right foot and blasted a long-range left-foot dropped goal. New Zealand were back in charge again. On the pitch with ITV right after the final whistle he came straight over, very modest and grounded, like all the great Kiwi players I have encountered.
He could have retired there and then but a successful, if injury-plagued spell, with Racing in France followed. You are a long time retired and I sense Dan has put it off to the last possible moment. Rugby is his passion as well as his job.
So, Jonny Wilkinson or Dan Carter? That is the question I often get asked. It’s almost an impossible choice. They were, by some distance, the two pre-eminent fly-halves of their era — both incidentally natural left-footers.
They were both tough and enduring — fly-halves are targeted in all levels of rugby, doubly so when they are world-class goalkickers. I would score Jonny and Dan about equal as the best goalkickers we have seen, Dan was the best attacking 10 I ever saw while Jonny was far and away the best defensive 10 I ever witnessed.
So where does that leave us? If I was forced into a corner I would go with Jonny. Just. I was lucky enough to coach him for six years and knew his game intimately. With Dan I just admired from afar.
Dan was the best attacking 10 I ever saw while Jonny Wilkinson was the best defensive 10