Lyon - 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 proceeded 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
"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 work rate is
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."