The music sent shivers through my body. My arms and legs were covered in goosebumps. None of it made sense to me. I was on the pitch, centre stage at Jade Stadium. Andrew Mehrtens was on the bench. I couldn’t work it out. The crowd certainly couldn’t work it out. Who was this kid Carter? I shared the doubts. My abiding memory of my debut Super rugby game against the Hurricanes is the nerves drumming at me like the hooves of the Crusaders horses.
Looking forward to the 100th game of Super Rugby – and it just had to be against the Canes – all I now feel is excitement. I grew up a Cantabrian, I was a Crusaders follower. I was happy to play one game. To play 100 is so special.
It was some start back in 2003. It was a sold-out crowd. Tana Umaga and Christian Cullen were on the opposition and I was supposed to work out how to beat them. Then after 20 minutes Aaron Mauger was injured, Mehrtens came on at first five-eighth and I moved out one. Managed to score a couple of tries. I had made it through. I had a taste of professional rugby and I just wanted more and more of it.
It is strange that I should be back at 12 for the 100th game. My wife and her family will be there and mum and dad are travelling up for the match. And I am still learning. I did a few things wrong last week. For one thing I am having to adjust to being back at second five.
As a 10 you are looking in at the halfback quite a bit, anticipating the arrival of the ball. I found myself slipping into that habit against the Stormers, when I needed to be looking out, assessing the space, communicating with my 13, being the eyes for Tom Taylor who played so well at first five.
It takes a few games to build combinations but I have been impressed with Taylor. He works exceptionally hard but has a relaxed attitude around the match. And he is a fantastic kicker. I have been equally impressed with Beauden Barrett so it will be interesting to see how they go against each other.
Barrett is quite a threat in attack and picks his time to run, but both know they will be targets in defence. That is the way for the modern number 10. Neither Taylor nor Barrett are big men, so there will be a bit of traffic rumbling through their channels.
At the start of my career there is no doubt that I benefitted from playing a couple of years for the Crusaders and the All Blacks at 12. I was a quiet rugby player back then. I didn’t have the direction or the leadership or the vision to fully control a game. I learned a lot from playing outside Andrew Mehrtens and Carlos Spencer and even Aaron Mauger.
I know I am going to get asked about whether I may move back to 12 in the latter half of my career. If I can keep my fitness and form for the 2015 World Cup might it be as a second five-eighth? Well, let me be polite about this. I am a lot more comfortable at 10 these days. All that experience is better used at first-five. So, when you add it all up, it comes to 10.
And let me say, reaching a century of games doesn’t mean it’s all over. I hope there are many more games to come. There have been so few down moments. Maybe the losing finals were hard to take at the time, but the Crusaders worst finish during my time is the semi-finals. That’s quite a feat for the team. Why remember the bad times with all that to look back on and so much to look forward to.
So thanks everyone. The New Zealand fans and the fans from all around the globe have been just great. We hear you and it makes all the difference in the world.
My top New Zealand Super Rugby team: Christian Cullen, Doug Howlett, Tana Umaga, Aaron Mauger, Siti Sivivatu, Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Greg Somerville (or Tony Woodcock if Greg doesn’t want to play loosehead), Anton Oliver, Carl Hayman, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Reuben Thorne, Richie McCaw (captain), Mose Tuiali’i.
Ed: It took Dan under a minute to name all eight of the previous Crusaders to reach 100 matches. He’s a player, but he’s still a fan too.