When New Zealand lifted the rugby World Cup at Twickenham two years ago, it was to be the final match for six members of the invincible squad. As well as team captain Richie McCaw, centres Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, hooker Keven Mealamu, loosehead prop Tony Woodcock and arguably New Zealand’s greatest ever fly-half Dan Carter, all wore the black jersey for the last time in October 2015, leaving younger players to step up to the plate.
“Most people expected there to be a re-booting phase after losing so many of us who had played around 100 games, but as part of the old team I knew that the guys were just going to get better. We had structures in place for five or six years to build up these young guys for leadership roles and they were ready to continue what had been started. It is a strong environment and players flourish in that. I knew it would be OK, but they have impressed even me, exceeding expectations with how well they have played. Historically, after winning a World Cup, the following season a team dips because the players have worked so hard in the lead up to the big one. But down to the strength of New Zealand as a whole, the guys just continued and it was great to see.”
“There were two guys fighting for my position and I honestly didn’t know who was going to play. Aaron Cruden who started was fantastic and then his injury gave Beauden Barrett an opportunity – and the whole world saw what he made of that chance. He played extremely well and I am so proud of him because I have been working with him for four years and to see him flourish and be able to play like that on the world stage was fantastic.”
Carter knows a thing or two about impressing the world himself. The all-time leading test point scorer has been named World Rugby Player of the Year on three occasions, enjoying a career that has included 112 test caps, 1,598 test points and three Super Rugby titles. But what brought him to global attention was his performance in the 2005 British and Irish Lions Tour. During the second Test, Carter produced what was as close to the perfect performance as possible, scoring 33 points against the Lions. Carter was just 23.
“When I walked off the pitch I didn’t understand just how special that game had been,” he says. “Then I turned my phone on. I normally get 15 to 20 text messages after a game, but I had over 100. There is so much hype around a Lions tournament that this really put my name out there. Everything seemed to flow in the game and it has to be one of the best games I played in the black jersey. I got close to matching the achievement on occasions but that will always be the one that stands out – a great game and an amazing team to do it against.”
At just 35, Carter knows that the countdown has started on his active playing career. “There are definitely more injuries than ten years ago, but that’s all part of the sport,” he says. “You have to manage your training a bit more and be smarter in the training you do. But I still have the love for the game and that’s what gets this old body out of bed in the morning. I still consider myself so lucky to call myself a rugby player and I want it to last as long as possible.”
Now playing for Racing 92 just outside of Paris, Carter has been in France for over a year and is so far loving his new experience. “I miss home a little bit – especially around Christmas and New Year because it’s the holiday period and you get to spend time with friends and family, no one is working and you get to enjoy sunshine on the beach with a barbecue,” he says. “New Zealand will always be home and I do look to going back at some stage. But for now, I am enjoying being away – I love the new lifestyle, the new challenges, the history and culture in Paris, it’s a nice change.
“The game is completely different here. It’s not that one way is right and one is wrong. I didn’t come to make people do it my way, I came to learn and to listen and to try and add a few things along the way. It’s a challenge and I am loving it. But at the end of the day it is still rugby with the same rules, just different thought processes.”
An informal friend of the brand, Carter has long been a TAG Heuer fan and was delighted to be announced as an ambassador earlier this year. “I’ve always admired TAG Heuer and this new relationship is really exciting. I can’t say too much but there are some great things planned. It’s an honour to join the ranks of TAG’s other incredible sports ambassadors like Cristiano Ronaldo and the other amazing sports people. The brand has a real involvement with many sports and this is so important.”
But, if it all ends tomorrow, will Carter fall back on his second career as an underwear model? He rolls his eyes and blushes at the reference to his partnership with Jockey, which was responsible for more than one car accident when billboards featuring a semi-naked Carter appeared overnight in 2004. “On a serious note, I do love fashion,” he says. “And this led to my love of watches I suppose. Guys don’t get as many accessories as women, so for us watches are fun. I love to choose which timepiece to wear when I go out. I am very lucky and have five TAG Heuers at the moment. I adore the Carrera and I have three of them plus two Aquaracers – I’m spoilt for choice.
“They are all mechanical, which is important to me. The technology makes me smile every day – that something as simple as the movement of my arm can give the energy to power a watch. I’d love to go to the TAG manufacture at some point. Once in Australia, I got to assemble a movement and I was pleasantly surprised that I was actually OK at it. It was quite funny – the watchmakers taught me how to fix a watch and I taught them how to kick a rugby ball so it was a good trade off. I’m definitely better at rugby than watchmaking, but who knows? I was better than everyone thought I would be and I can’t play rugby forever so potentially there’s a new career there.”
The infectious enthusiasm of TAG CEO Jean-Claude Biver is an attribute not lost on Carter. “He’s inspirational,” he says. “I’ve met him a couple of times and just five minutes in his company, being able to witness his passion is enough to explain why he is the watch king. It’s fantastic that he is bringing all of his experience to TAG Heuer.”
“I come from a small country town in New Zealand but for some reason I have always known TAG Heuer watches. I got to know some people working there and I became friends with the brand. Now I’m taking that next step and becoming an ambassador. It’s extremely well-known and people see it as one of the best watch brands in the world. But the company never rests on past successes, always pushing to be better. More so than ever with Mr Biver at the helm, TAG plans for the future and always tries to stay a step ahead of the game and that’s the way I like to live my life, always one step ahead of the competition.”
The TAG Heuer slogan “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” is a sentiment that echoes with Carter. “It’s my life as a goal kicker and a play-maker in the team,” he says. “I am constantly dealing with pressure and for me performing under pressure is one of the things I pride myself on. It’s the perfect manifestation of TAG’s motto because if you do crack under pressure you will never be successful and you will never achieve what you want to achieve.”