Dan Carter, at 34, might be heading to the latter stages of his star-studded career, but he has acknowledged that this season was among his best.
Crowned man-of-the-match in October’s Rugby World Cup final win over Australia, Carter jetted into Paris to much fanfare and has proceded to play a huge role in leading Racing 92 to the final of the European Champions Cup, against Saracens in Lyon on Saturday.
The three-time (and current) World Player of the Year, capped 112 times by the All Blacks, has fitted straight into a formidable, cosmopolitan outfit in the French capital.
A European Cup trophy would complete Carter’s sweep of world rugby’s silverware, the highest Test and Super Rugby points scorer having already won the Super title with the Crusaders and even the Top 14 trophy when part of the winning Perpignan team, albeit his game time was limited to five matches because of injury.
“It is right up there,” Carter replied when asked what he thought of appearing in the European final.
“It is obviously the pinnacle of European rugby and a big part of the reason why I wanted to come here. To reach this stage is a hugely proud moment for me, and more importantly, for this team.
“We haven’t won anything yet. We are up against a very good Saracens side. We’ve done well to get here, but the hard work starts now.”
Carter’s cool and collected approach to his game has paid dividends with Racing blessed to have two combative scrumhalves in France international Maxime Machenaud and Wales veteran Mike Phillips.
The extra space Carter can afford to play in thanks to his half-back partners allows the New Zealander to fully orchestrate an exciting backline.
“It has been a pretty special 12-14 months with some of the things I’ve achieved,” Carter admitted.
“I am just lucky to be a part of a couple of pretty special teams. Obviously, the All Blacks and what they’ve achieved, and to be involved now with Racing.”
Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara, European Cup rugby’s record points scorer and now assistant coach with Racing, said the influence of the half-backs becomes “more pronounced” at this level.
“Dan and Maxime haven’t played that much rugby together but there’s a great thing between them,” said O’Gara.
“From the start, it takes a few months to understand each other’s thinking. It’s an important combination. The two of them are very different yet very similar.
“Max likes sticking his teeth in there and getting involved whereas Dan’s composed, but Dan’s also capable of doing something unexpected which is what singles him out.
“His presence is huge. Dan is in the latter stage, the over-the-hill stage nearly! Max is taking his game to a new level. He’s prospered for France. He has confidence from that, his workrate is incredible.”
Carter said his teammates had also benefitted from the experience O’Gara, twice a European Cup winner with Munster, and others could afford.
“Obviously, it’s a very historical moment for the club and it’s a huge occasion,” he said.
“To be able to draw on the experience of the guys who’ve been in this situation before, Chris Masoe won a few, Ronan has won plenty in his time as well, so it’s good for the other players just to feed off little words or experiences that they’ve been through at this level in these high-pressure matches.”