Lions 2013: Carter’s last hurrah is a family affair
When the British & Irish Lions last took on the NSW Waratahs 12 years ago, in what is now an infamous game in the tourist’s folklore, Tom Carter was on the other side of the white lines, watching the feisty clash from the stands.
18-years-old and just about to kickstart his own rugby career with his first year at Sydney University playing in the colts, Carter was there to watch older brother Ed donning the Cambridge Blue, and taking on the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson, Keith Wood and Brian O’Driscoll. It is a memory he savours.
“I remember it vividly,” he told Rugby News this week. “I remember the Duncan McRae incident, I remember that Ed set up a try with an up’n’under that was regathered and Manny Edmonds scored off second phase, and it was also Phil Waugh’s first game as captain. I also remember the speed and the intensity of the game, the collisions were massive. But it was a tremendous game of football, the Waratahs really gave it to them physically and scored four tries, even though they lost.”
It goes without saying that it had a palpable effect on his desire to make a career in the game.
“When you witness moments like that, you realise how special an honour it is, and I certainly didn’t think in 12 years time that I’d be playing for the Waratahs and playing against the Lions. But looking back upon it, it’s an incredibly special thing.”
The game will be forever remembered for the red card issued to Waratahs fullback Duncan McRae, who took it upon himself to rearrange Ronan O’Gara’s eye socket, and for the subsequent bad feeling which led to four players, two Tahs and two Lions, being sent to the bin for fighting. While we can only hope that such unsavoury incidents do not cloud tonight’s match, there’s no question of the Tahs taking a backward step. As Carter says, they believe they have a chance to stamp their names in New South Wales’ folklore.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to measure ourselves and for someone like me, who’ll never get the opportunity to play test football, these are the games you want to play. If you’ve ever had any questions about whether you were good enough, they get answered on Saturday night.
“It’s what you want to be able to say when you look back on your career, that you played the best and you measured yourself against them and for the Waratahs, even though we haven’t probably had the season that we would have hoped for, I think we’ve shown our fans that there’s a new spirit and character emerging in New South Wales rugby. This game will be a great judge of that because there’s going to be moments where we’re under a huge amount of pressure and it’s going to be really difficult. But I think we’ll stand the test and we’ll show our supporters and everyone else how far we’ve come and what type of footy we can play, even against the best in the world.”
An avid student of the game, Carter has watched the Lions tour from afar with interest and he’s been impressed with what he’s seen.
“I actually think they’ve been outstanding. They’ve played both a structured game, which is typical of Welsh football, and then they showed the Irish and Leinster skills against Combined Country on Tuesday when they played with width. There’s plenty of physicality in the forwards, their work at the breakdown in both attack and defence is good, and they’re a very good set-piece side. I’ve also been surprised at how athletic and talented, as well as big and strong, that Alex Cuthbert and George North have been, and they pose lots of questions.”
He was looking forward to taking on Brian O’Driscoll and Manu Tuilagi but admits he’s still got plenty to worry about in the shape of centre pairing Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. However, he feels the Tahs have more than enough weapons of their own to make the Lions concerned.
“They’re obviously pretty big ball carriers and Jonathan Davies has got tremendous skill as well, but in saying that, Drew Mitchell, Cam Crawford and Peter Betham will ask lots of questions too. No-one yet has asked the Lions enough questions, too many sides have kicked the ball away and they’ve been able to kick it back and hold it, so you want to hold the football and challenge them and make them make tackles.”
That’s been the mantra from coach Michael Cheika this week, who has insisted that his side should starve the Lions of possession and see how they cope.
“Cheik’s challenged us to not sit around and be happy with a glorious loss and not be the guys that say we competed for sixty and then they ran away with it,” says Carter. “We want to take them on up front. The games we’ve won this year are the games that our tight five have dominated, and I think it’s important that you challenge them in certain areas of the game and attack with the opportunities that you get.”
This game now serves as a potential swansong for Carter, whose contract is up at the end of the season. Having started the opening two games of the year under new coach Michael Cheika, he has found himself on the outer ever since before a recall for last week’s gutsy win over the Western Force. Not only was he back in the jersey he loves, he also had the honour of being captain.
“It was one of my proudest moments,” he admits. “I don’t think you ever dream of playing eighty-odd times for New South Wales, which I’ve been fortunate enough to do, let alone captaining them. But it was something that meant a lot to me. After the disappointments of last year and then not being in the team a lot this year, having the opportunity to contribute and give something back meant a lot. But I’m pretty happy to retire with a 100% captaincy record!”
With so many Waratahs being called up to the national squad, it was left to a host of no-name young players, under the guidance of older heads such as Carter, Mitchell and Brendan McKibbin, to get the job done. And they did so with aplomb, scoring three first half tries before defending stoutly in the second half to see out the victory.
The Lions now loom large as a significant challenge for this young squad but they received a timely boost late in the week when Bernard Foley and Matt Lucas were released from the Sevens World Cup camp, and Dave Dennis and Rob Horne were allowed to rejoin their team mates from Camp Wallaby to assist the cause. Those four additions have spiced up tonight’s game to a point where the true believers think the Tahs have a genuine shot at upsetting the unbeaten tourist’s. The sense of occasion is not lost on Carter.
“It’s a great challenge and it’s very exciting just to be on the field on Saturday night. You think about the Olympics and World Cups that only happen every four years, and people talk about them being the highlight of their lives or their sporting lives at least. This is every 12 years.
“The first game of rugby I ever watched was in Newcastle, watching New South Wales Country versus the Lions, so it’s really special to me. It normally doesn’t sink in until you’re out there and you realise who you’re playing, but there’ll be a full house at the football stadium and I think it’ll be the moment where you walk out and think ‘All the hard work has been worth it’.”
If it is to be his last year in rugby, at least in Australia, Carter can look back with pride at a host of highlights including the 2008 Super Rugby final, where the Waratahs were within six point of lifting their first Super Rugby title, and also the eight Shute Shield Premierships he has lifted with his beloved Sydney University. This however, is something else.
“It’s hard to compare but in terms of achievements in your rugby career, to say that you played against the Lions for New South Wales is an incredible honour. Premierships that you win with your club side and a Super Rugby final are a culmination of incredible hard work over an extended period of time, but I feel like this is probably the highlight of my career.
“The times when you hang in there and rehabilitate yourself from injury or when you turn down opportunities to go overseas, this is probably the reward for that. Hopefully my kids, who won’t ever get to see me play, can look back and say ‘My Dad played against the British & Irish Lions’ for the Waratahs and that’s something that’s very special to me.”
The irony of that game 12 years ago was that it would prove to be Ed Carter’s one and only appearance in the Waratahs jersey – some statistic. But as with all elder brothers, he’s been quick to keep the lid on his younger sibling’s excitement this week.
“He reckons he was clearly a lot better footballer because he was ready to face the Lions in his first game and it’s taken me 83 games to get there!” laughs Carter.
Brotherly love eh?
First published by Rugby News on: Jun 15th, 2013