Rugby great Carter looks to add European title to collection
PARIS (AP) Dan Carter's previous experience in French rugby ended after just five games because of a serious injury. His latest adventure in France has led him to a better place: The New Zealand great is one win away from becoming a European champion.
Carter joined Parisian team Racing 92 to play alongside former New Zealand wing Joe Rokocoko after guiding the All Blacks to a second straight title at the Rugby World Cup in October.
Many observers said the move was just for the money, but Carter has set them straight. The flyhalf has been as professional and hard-working as ever, and the driving force behind Racing's strong performances in the Top 14 and run to a first-ever European final.
Racing plays English club Saracens in the European Champions Cup final in Lyon on Saturday, with Carter looking to join Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Brad Thorn and Ali Williams in winning the Rugby World Cup, the Rugby Championship, the Super Rugby title and the European Cup.
''It's a fantastic season. It has been an amazing five months for me. Winning the European Cup final would top things off and it would be a dream come true,'' said Carter, whose first stint in France – with Perpignan in 2009 – was abruptly ended when he ruptured his Achilles tendon. ''The competition was a big reason for my wanting to play in France.''
The 34-year-old Carter has been able to stay fit this season, although he picked up a slight calf injury after kicking 11 points in the Champions Cup semifinal win over Leicester. That should not prevent him from featuring in Lyon, where he played for New Zealand in a 47-3 victory over France in a 2006 test match.
Despite Carter's presence, Saracens have promised they won't make the error of fixating on the former All Black. Big-spending Racing also has Argentina winger Juan Imhoff and France internationals Teddy Thomas and Brice Dulin in its backline.
''It's a big, big, big mistake to think you're going to go and get Dan Carter,'' Saracens director of rugby Mark McCallm said. ''Dan Carter's been doing this for a very long time. So we've got to make sure that his influence in the game isn't huge, isn't unbelievably significant.''
The only major hiccup in Racing's preparation came with the suspension of Italy prop Martin Castrogiovanni, who has been sanctioned by the club because he traveled without authorization to Las Vegas to party with Paris Saint-Germain soccer players. Castrogiovanni angered club officials after telling them he could not play against Leicester because of family matters.
Like Racing, Saracens will be chasing their first victory in the continental tournament, having lost in the 2014 final to Toulon and reached the semifinals in 2013 and `15. With England locks George Kruis and Maro Itoje leading a strong forward pack and Owen Farrell directing the backs, there are few weak links in the team.
Saracens can play open rugby, or keep it tight in the forwards. And they have more big-game experience at Europe's highest level to fall back on.
Racing and Saracens met in the quarterfinals last season, with the English side coming out on top with a dramatic 12-11 win.
Racing, of course, didn't have Carter then.
AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas in Manchester, England, contributed to this report.