When Dan Carter signed off from international rugby, he was rightly proud of his 1,598 Test points. Ask him how he feels about them come Friday afternoon.
This Thursday, at seven pm local time, Carter will stride on to the familiar turf of Eden Park in Auckland and start kicking goals once more. Only this time he is aiming to land 1,598 of them, one for each of his Test points, a record haul that surpasses the next best (of one Jonny Wilkinson) by 352.
He has given himself 24 hours to complete the task. Expect him to be cursing his own prowess with every swing of the boot beyond two pm local – roughly when he should move past Wilkinson’s tally. He will still have another five hours to go.
Carter is using his 24-hour kickathon to raise money for Unicef’s water, sanitation and health (Wash) programme in New Zealand and the Pacific. “I’m big on numbers,” he says.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like this. I’ve been an ambassador for Unicef for about seven years and am passionate about enriching the lives of children, so I’ve set up my own fund, the DC10 fund.”
His passion for helping children is well placed, given his wife, the New Zealand hockey international Honor Carter, gave birth to a fourth son in June last year. Carter feels he is up to speed on the sleep-deprivation front; otherwise there is no training manual for him here because, well, no one has ever tried to kick 1,598 goals in one session.
“When I started thinking about this, I wanted to see how long I would need to kick 150 goals. It took 45 minutes, but I pulled a quad and had blisters all over my feet. So I thought again. That’s when I came up with 1,598 in 24 hours, which works out at just over 66 an hour. About a kick a minute. OK, that sounds do-able.”
Everything is relative. The do-ability of this feat for the greatest goalkicker in the history of the game might have been enhanced by that quad strain. While he recovered he resorted to practising with his less favoured right foot, which in turn gave him the idea of kicking goals with either foot to spread the load.
In a tribute to his father, who had always taught him the importance of being able to kick off either foot, Carter’s last Test points, the conversion of Beauden Barrett’s try a minute from time in the 2015 World Cup final at Twickenham, were kicked with his right foot. He took that from 10m out, in front of the posts, but he will be kicking from further out this week, just beyond the 22.
“The groundsman at Eden Park is dreading it. Someone’s kicking goals from the same spot of the precious turf for 24 hours, but I have to preserve my legs. I can’t be kicking them from 50 metres or the corners.”
That said, Carter is open to trying the odd trick shot if the bid from a potential sponsor is high enough. Otherwise, his focus will be on survival. As well as an army of volunteers to collect balls and tee them up (with strict instructions, mind, about how he likes it), there will be a tag team of pals keeping him going. Barrett, Richie McCaw and Grant Fox are among the All Blacks who will be dropping by, while Johnny Sexton, Marcus Smith, Finn Russell and Romain Ntamack will be linked by video from the north to help him through the New Zealand night.
Sexton plans to visit in person in July with Ireland’s much-anticipated three-Test tour of New Zealand. The All Blacks find themselves in the virtually unheard-of situation of having lost consecutive Tests in the north, the first of which was their third defeat against Ireland in five Tests, having never lost against them before that.
“It’s just the Test series the All Blacks need,” says Carter, “because there are a few people asking questions, as there are any time an All Black team loses a game. I’ve been really impressed with Ireland’s willingness to play with ball in hand.”
These are just some of the ingredients for the delicious prospect of the Rugby World Cup next year in France. The international game has never been more competitive, with France’s grand slam pushing New Zealand into third in the world rankings, as low as they have been. An Ireland win in the first Test, at Eden Park, would lead to them hitting a new “low” of fourth.
“At a World Cup you’d normally pick two or three teams that could win it,” Carter says. “Next year that number could be six or seven. That’s how exciting it is, to have that many teams capable of being number one. There’s no real dominance between the northern and southern hemispheres. It’s very level pegging. It’s an exciting time for rugby.”
The balance is exquisite, but also delicate. At the level below Test rugby the dynamics are shifting, with the disbandment of the old Super Rugby. Carter will not be drawn on governance questions but, in response to the ominous drift of South African teams towards Europe, he states simply: “I think it is crucial we continue to play against South Africa, the national team in particular.”
If anyone knows about balance, Dan Carter is that person. As the hours crawl into Friday and ball after ball demands kicking, he will call on all those years making rugby look so effortless at Eden Park and well beyond. He has often spoken about kicking as meditation for him, his happy place. Here’s hoping he finds a transcendental state, come hour 24. - Guardian
Follow the live stream of Dan Carter's kickathon and donate to the DC10 fund at dancarter.com/kickathon