Dan Carter (Getty)
London - Dan Carter has admitted that he and hulking lock Ali Williams "like to dress up" in comic-book costumes, though coach Steve Hansen said the flyhalf is assured of All Black superhero status regardless of the result in Saturday's Rugby World Cup final.
Carter faced the world's media at Twickenham on Friday and did his best to play down the significance of his 112th and final test appearance being the opportunity to get his hands on the Webb Ellis Cup after missing most of the 2011 tournament through injury.
He seemed positively relieved when asked if he still collected superhero costumes.
"Yeah, it sounds a bit weird but (former All Black) Ali Williams and I like to dress up and I started a collection of pretty much every superhero costume there is," Carter said, earning a raised eyebrow from the usually poker-faced Hansen.
Carter explained that his collection eventually went to a friend after his wife demanded space in the wardrobe for his first child's clothes.
Asked which was his favourite, he mulled it over before selecting his first, The Phantom -- a mainstay of American comics, newspaper strips and TV for almost 80 years.
The diversion offered some light relief for Carter, who was clearly uncomfortable with talk of the fairy-tale aspect of his international swansong against arch rivals Australia.
After much talk of it being all about the team, he eventually cracked when he considered how his 2011 tournament ended, sidelined by a groin injury after two pool games.
"There were moments there I thought it might be the end," he said. "... Immediately after (2011) I was pretty devastated, but knew I still had a lot to add to New Zealand rugby, which is why I signed a new contract immediately
"In the back of my mind in 2011 was to give myself a chance of a another World Cup. It was pretty far-fetched to look that far ahead, so it's great to be here."
After the anguish of missing out four years ago and being a member of the teams that came up short at the previous two tournaments, Carter said his motivation is not personal but the desire to play his part in a team success.
That left it to Hansen to deliver the eulogy.
The coach bridled at the suggestion that Carter's 12-year career would be defined by 80 minutes of action at Twickenham on Saturday.
"His career is already defined and it's one of greatness," Hansen said. "Yes, it's important, but it certainly won't define his career.
"He has enhanced the jersey in many ways over many matches, and when you start out as an All Black that's one of the greatest things you can do."
That feat is made all the more impressive by the calibre of those who have filled the number ten shirt in the past.
"In his position that's a pretty remarkable thing when you think about the people who have gone before him. People like Grant Fox, (Earle) Kirton, (Andrew) Mehrtens and so forth.
"When they left, people said we couldn't replace them but a little fella from Southbridge has done that."
Carter, whose right knee was heavily strapped, sat with his head bowed during the paean, but Hansen ploughed on.
"He's gone through a bit of adversity in the past few years. He's done everything in the game, but he wanted to finish playing well," Hansen said.
"He's pretty humble and he's a normal, good bloke. He likes a beer, likes a laugh and he's nice company."
Something of an all-round superhero.