Rugby Rugby

All Blacks legend Carter hints Japan will be last hurrah

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Dan Carter is widely considered the greatest fly-half in rugby history © AFP / MARTIN BUREAU

HONG KONG, China, Feb 1 – All Blacks great Dan Carter dropped a clear hint that he will retire in 2020 after his upcoming stint in Japan — but said he had no ambitions to coach his world-beating national team.

Speaking to AFP in Hong Kong, where Carter arrived this week with his French club Racing 92, for the Natixis Cup exhibition fixture against South Africa’s Sharks, the 35-year-old said retirement was looming fast.

Carter, widely hailed as the best fly-half to grace the game, will see out this season with Racing before embarking on a two-year stint with Kobelco Steelers, which will straddle the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

“It’s (retirement) obviously just around the corner… but exactly what I do, I’m not a hundred percent sure yet,” he said, ahead of Saturday’s game.

“But you know I’m still really enjoying playing and that’s why I signed to play a couple more years in Japan so that’ll take me through to 2020, sort of mid-2020… that’s when my contract finishes in Japan.”

Speculation has been high about Carter’s plans after he stops playing but the two-time World Cup winner, now retired from national duty, said he had his eye on the commercial side of rugby, rather than coaching.

“I think immediately after rugby going straight into coaching you know, I don’t think I’ll be ready for that,” he said, when asked about coaching the All Blacks.

“To be honest the coaches work harder than players. They’re away every weekend for games, it’s quite a big commitment.”

– ‘One-legged players’ –

Carter played 112 times for New Zealand and remains the highest points-scorer in Test history.

He moved to Racing in 2015, winning the prestigious Top 14 in his first season and helping the team reach the European Champions Cup final in 2016 — a first for the club and “a huge achievement” for Carter.

Racing 92 New Zealand flyhalf Dan Carter will join Japan’s Kobelco Steelers at the end of the season © AFP/File / FRANCK FIFE

Though he has suffered a string of injuries in recent months, he says he is working hard to be fit and return to the team for the latter part of the season.

His decision to join the Steelers was mocked by outspoken Toulon boss Mourad Boudjellal, who scoffed that he would be playing against “one-legged players” in Japan’s Top League.

But it has been met with enthusiasm in Japan, where the Steelers’ team director is hoping Carter will boost rugby’s profile as the country prepares to host the World Cup.

Carter said the sport had already caught on, particularly after Japan’s shock upset of South Africa in the 2015 World Cup.

“I’ve seen how much rugby has grown in Japan and also Asia over the last couple of years,” he said.

“Obviously it doesn’t compete with the likes of baseball and sumo wrestling and things like that, but I think leading into the World Cup it’s going to increase.”

– Dan-san –

Carter is not the first big name to make the switch to the East Asian country, which often attracts top-level veteran players — with mixed results.

Ex-Wallaby George Smith, who plays for Suntory Sungoliath, was arrested in Tokyo recently for allegedly assaulting a taxi driver, and in 2013 the late former All Blacks flanker Jerry Collins was arrested for illegally carrying a kitchen knife.

Rugby star Dan Carter is hopeful that having more top players in Japan could inspire a new generation of fans © AFP/File / GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT

But Carter, who suffered a dent to his own image after a drink-driving charge in Paris last year, said having more top players in Japan could inspire a new generation of fans.

He said the shorter rugby season made Japan appealing for foreigners, and named Australians Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley Cooper, as well as New Zealand’s Andy Ellis, as among the familiar faces he hoped would help him settle in.

“With the season structures, you know it works out pretty well and a lot of guys are starting to play in Japan and also play Super Rugby as well… Not for me, bit old for that now,” he said.

Asked if he planned to learn Japanese — after trying his hand at French — Carter promised he’d give it a try.

“I think it’s one of the requirements as well to learn Japanese. I don’t think I’ll be very good at it… but I think it’s important that you learn the basics and are able to communicate, so yeah, give it a go.”

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