His all-round game was notches above anyone, confidently steering a team around the park and inspiring his team-mates in high-pressure situations.
Now, at the tender age of 38, one of the greatest players of all time is back in New Zealand, except not for his beloved Crusaders, where he won three Super Rugby titles, but with the Auckland Blues.
The Blues had been in talks with Carter for some time and a foot injury to full-back Stephen Perofeta fast-tracked the opportunity to sign Carter on a replacement contract for the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, starting on June 13.
Carter finished his playing commitments with Japan Top League side Kobe Steelers after the season was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and he has since returned to Auckland with his family.
The Leeston man was in fine form during his three seasons in Japan, clinching the league title in 2019, and his primary motives for joining the Blues is to give back to New Zealand Rugby by sharing his knowledge and experience at the ripe end of his career.
While some may think the three-time world player of the year came at a significant cost, he has agreed a standard late additions contract of $1800 a week – $18,000 for the season if he stays for the entire 10 weeks competition.
There could be more to come on the field too.
His surprise presence will put the icing on the cake for head coach Leon MacDonald, providing the Blues will a wealth of depth, to contend in a New Zealand Rugby competition that promises to be both thrilling and combative.
The sight of Carter pulling on a Blues jersey is unlikely to sit well with some loyal Crusaders supporters. The dual World Cup winner made 141 appearances for the Canterbury outfit over 13 seasons, before moving north following the 2015 World Cup.
The Blues, who have struggled for success since lifting the Super Rugby crown in 2003, now boast Carter and Beauden Barrett as their key playmaker options for the season ahead. A tantalising prospect.
The pair had a master-and-apprentice-type relationship over the 2015 World Cup cycle, and although Barrett will take the reins at fly-half, Carter shapes as a pretty handy replacement in the latter stages of a game.
Having the brilliant Barrett and Carter means the Blues possess one of the most devastating backlines in the competition. That’s not to forget the prolific Rieko Ioane on the wing, TJ Faiane and Joe Marchant in the centre, and Sam Nock at scrum-half.
If they can gain a foothold up front, then they have the sparkling talents of these players to produce the magic out wide.
The game in two weeks against Hurricanes was expected to be all about Barrett, a former player at the Wellington-based side, however, the game’s profile has gone to another level following Carter’s switch.
There is a competitive edge in every sportsperson, however, at 38, Carter has to be realistic about his prospects. With six games in 18 months and three months of no rugby training, it’s going to take time to get up to speed.
Still, even having Carter involved in training, inspiring the players, sharing his knowledge and getting a drop of game time along the way, makes for a thrilling prospect.
Seeing him for one final flourish will raise a smile and make every rugby fan watch with huge interest.
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