Dan Carter put aside the nerves Friday night to show Japanese rugby fans just why he has picked up so many accolades and pieces of silverware during his illustrious career.
The former All Black, who has more test-match points to his name than any other player, scored 21 points in his Japan Rugby Top League debut as his new club Kobe Kobelco Steelers beat two-time defending champions Suntory Sungoliath 36-20.
«You are probably thinking ‘Why so nervous after playing for 16 years professionally?'» he said to a packed press room at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
«But no matter what you have achieved in your career when you come to a new club you still have to prove yourself and that was a real objective for me tonight. You have to earn the respect of your teammates. I wanted to prove myself and I’d like to think I did that tonight. But it’s just a start and we have to keep striving to get better as a team.»
The 36-year-old Carter, who arrived in Japan under an injury cloud and missed Kobe’s first game, played with a heavily strapped right leg.
But he played the full 80 minutes, overcoming an early error to remind everyone why he was named World Rugby Player of the Year on three occasions.
A huge cheer from the crowd greeted his first touch kick, though they were shortly followed by groans as he missed his first kick at goal.
But that blip aside, Carter barely put a foot wrong and there was gasps whenever he made a tackle, cheers when he put boot to ball and his try in the 22nd minute brought the house down.
«I’ve missed the first kick in a game many times before…but I’m experienced enough to put that to the side and concentrate on the rest of my game,» he said.
«I kicked a few in the second half which was pretty pleasing and scored a try which doesn’t happen so often these days so I was pretty pleased with that as well.»
He also got to spend the final 20 minutes playing with his former Crusaders and All Blacks halfback partner Andy Ellis, though he admitted that was something of a surprise.
«The game over is played really fast so the lungs were struggling a little bit today. I wasn’t expecting to play 80 minutes and when they bought the subs on — Nick Ealey and Andy Ellis — I thought that might be my night.»
Having given a masterclass on the field, he then showed his humble side at a packed media conference.
«My teammates have been amazing making me feel welcome,» he said. «And I thought they played extremely well tonight. The man-of-the-match could have gone to any of the Kobe players out there tonight. I’ve got to thank them for making it easy for me tonight.»
His efforts were also noted by his opponents.
«He always seems to make the right options whether in attack or defense,» Suntory captain Yutaka Nagare said of the Kobe No. 10.
Sungoliath coach Keisuke Sawaki, meanwhile, said having Carter in Japan was like having a textbook from which Japanese rugby fans can learn.
«He has the ability to see things so quickly and that gives him space to kick, pass or run into gaps where there is no defense.»
Carter himself was also impressed by the level of rugby played.
«The standard here is really improving each season. It’s played at real speed and that’s something I’ve had to adapt to.»
He was also blown away by the level of media interest, saying it was like being at a test match and that it all bodes well for 2019 when Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup.
«This country is in for a real treat,» he said.
All — Kyodo News+