FEW subjects here in New Zealand are evoking more debate than Dan Carter’s six month sabbatical which starts in Europe in January 2009. The ‘Carter Clause’, as it has become known down here, is overshadowing the All Blacks first Test of the season against Ireland in Wellington.
The ‘Carter Clause’ will allow the most famous face in world rugby to make some serious bucks playing with either Toulon (or another club the out-half refused to name yesterday) while remaining contracted to the New Zealand Rugby Union. Carter will return from France in July 2009 and be eligible to play for the All Blacks. And despite all the spin Carter’s bosses will put on this new deal to be revealed in 13 days time, it means effectively that for the first time in their history, the NZFU will have agreed to pick All Blacks from abroad.
It could mean more All Blacks queuing up outside the doors of the NZRU here in Wellington seeking some OE (Overseas Experience), but wanting to remain an All Black. However, as Graham Henry said on Tuesday when welcoming Carter’s decision to sign a NZRU contract up to 2011, certain criteria must exist before such handsome deals are handed out. It may mean having at least 40 All Black caps, but in an era when there are already too many Tests packed into the international calendar, a 21-year-old today could be doing a Dan Carter by the age of 25.
The ‘Carter Clause’ is bad news, too, for the Super 14. The Christchurch-based Canterbury Crusaders will be without their talisman next season, and if more All Blacks follow the Carter route, the southern hemisphere competition — already suffering falling attendances and viewers — could be in serious trouble as a competition.
However, in these parts Carter is the special one and the deal he has struck will be a handsome pay-day. But this may be the exception. While Carter didn’t say his deal should open the door for other All Blacks to be picked from abroad, he did however admit it was a stepping-stone for the NZRU.
“I think it’s good that NZRU are looking at other options. Whether they’ll make it full-time or not, I’m still not sure about that. But I guess it’s a sort of a stepping stone for them and, potentially if it does go through, then you get a bit of gauge to see how it works.”
Still, what was refreshing to hear was his view that he expects no favours from the All Blacks selectors when he returns from Europe in summer 2009. “Obviously it will be a little bit different — it hasn’t happened before. Coaches and selectors will have to look at my form overseas. I don’t expect just to be selected in the All Blacks — I’d have to be playing well if I was to go overseas.”
You get the impression that Carter wouldn’t look for another six month sabbatical in Europe if he was allowed to be selected for the All Blacks. He spoke of his attachment to the Canterbury and All Blacks shirts and the challenges he wants to meet head-on over the next four years. One of those is obviously to leave his mark at the next World Cup. .
“I love playing for the All Blacks. That’s the main reason I’m looking to re-sign here in NZ because the All Blacks jersey does mean a lot to me, and there are still challenges I want to achieve in the next few years. There is still a lot of hard work ahead of me.”
Behind him is the 2007 World Cup and the match which shocked the world when the seemingly indomitable All Blacks lost to France in the quarter-final. One can only wonder what kind of pressure he is under going into the All Blacks first Test since that infamous night in Cardiff last October. “I don’t know about pressure,” he responded. “Obviously there are a lot of new faces and we’re not thinking back to the past — we’re looking ahead. A lot of this team weren’t part of the disappointment. They’ll be coming in here to stake a claim, and cement their position in the team. It’s going to be a great challenge.
“There are no personal memories to exorcise. We’ve all played a lot of rugby since then. It’s well in the background and we’re just concentrating on playing well as a team and setting ourselves up, working on a few combinations and hopefully get a win.”
He notches another career milestone at the weekend, he will be playing his first Test match against Ireland.
The visitors, searching for their first win over the All Blacks, have an experienced side, and Carter is expecting that his marker, Ronan O’Gara, will direct the Irish assault on history as they attempt to do what has escaped the men from the Emerald Isle so far.
“It’s going to be a good battle, Ronan O’Gara has played well this season so it will be a good challenge. He’s an extremely experienced player and he will lead that team around well, I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
The start of a special and busy 12 months for the world’s best rugby player has already begun.
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