Renowned for his dazzling speed and fearless defence, Leroy Carter has quickly established himself in the All Blacks Sevens team. Peter White finds out what makes the dynamic maestro tick.
There was a moment in the All Blacks Sevens’ sensational win over Fiji in the Hong Kong Sevens last month that caught the attention of everyone who saw it.
Leroy Carter chased a kick ahead to the Fijian tryline, accelerated between two dawdling defenders and won the race for a spectacular try before sliding head-on into the advertising boards. The gasp from the crowd was audible, expecting perhaps a serious knee injury or worse, but Carter leapt to his feet to celebrate his try with his delighted teammates.
If one play sums up the character and determination of the sevens dynamo from Tauranga, that was it.
Carter started the final in Hong Kong with a decisive tackle short of the Fijian line that led to the opening try to Cody Vai, and his stunning try opened up a 19-0 lead that proved too much for Fiji to catch. The victory was the first for the All Blacks Sevens in Hong Kong since 2014.
“It was pretty mean to score in a final in Hong Kong. I just pinned my ears back and was going as hard as I could. I had to do a dive, those wooden boards were right there, and I slammed right into them. I was pretty pumped up so it didn’t hurt too bad,” says Carter.
“I was just stoked and I guess to win Hong Kong is so special. It is where so many great players and great teams have played. Our team takes it as a pinnacle event and to do it with the team we had was unreal for me. There was a lot of emotion after the game with the boys and it was cool to have three boys on debut. It was pretty special.
“Winning with the All Blacks Sevens team, having the fern on your chest and my family’s last name on my back, means everything.”
Carter backed up his form in Hong Kong by being named HSBC player of the final as his team won the Singapore Sevens last month for the first time in 18 years.
The 24-year-old has never backed down from a physical confrontation. He first made a name for himself as halfback in a very good Tauranga Boys’ College First XV before he gained selection in the Bay of Plenty Steamers, Chiefs and New Zealand Under 20s teams in 2019.
During that earlier period of his career, the 15s version of rugby was what he focused on. It was training and playing in the Bay of Plenty Steamers with an All Blacks Sevens star that kick-started Carter’s desire for the abbreviated version of the game.
“When I got into the Bay of Plenty system, there was a guy called Joe Webber that was playing alongside me. He was always in my ear about coming over to sevens and I had enjoyed sevens at school, so when Clark (Laidlaw) gave me a message to come in to be a replacement player, I just loved it straight away and I wanted to stay in the system.”
In April last year, Carter made his full international debut at the Singapore Sevens and a few months later won bronze at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
Competing at such a prestigious tournament with athletes from so many different sporting codes was a special experience for Carter.
“That was also pretty cool for me as it was my first year in the team. Going into that season, I had a few goals and that was one of them, to make the Commonwealth Games team. To come home with a medal, although it wasn’t the gold we were after, it was still pretty special for our team and our country.”
In his own words, Carter has never been one of the star players in any team he has played in. But working harder than anyone else at the one per cent extras, and his ingrained determination to learn from every training and game played, has made him an invaluable member of the All Blacks Sevens group.
“I have been training pretty hard lately but it is still a bit of a surprise when your career goes off that fast. Maybe being in a fulltime environment has helped my speed, which has surprised me a bit.
“The boys have full confidence in our team whenever there is a new player coming in, so I always felt their backing. They are just a good group of lads and they love working hard for each other, so it makes it a lot easier on the field when you know your mates have got you covered.
“There are a lot of fun things that happen with our team, on and off the field, that make it a really good culture. It makes it easy to come into training every day.”
Carter loves working under head coach Laidlaw and credits the friendly Scotsman with making key improvements to his game.
“He is unreal. He is a great coach and I get along really well with him. He puts a lot of trust in the boys but makes sure we are doing the work at home before we head out on our tours. He genuinely loves the boys and we use that word ‘love’ a lot in our team.”
Players that inspired Carter growing up include Webber, DJ Forbes and Tim Mikkelson. Watching Carter tackling much bigger players head-on, with no fear or concern for his own wellbeing,
is symptomatic of how Forbes approached defending.
Carter smiles when he says he enjoys the defensive side of the game.
“I used to play flanker when I was younger, so maybe it is a bit of that coming out in me.”
A gold medal at the Olympic Games in Paris next year is driving Carter and the All Blacks Sevens squad. The team qualified by winning in Singapore.
“Yes, that is the major goal, to bring home the gold from Paris. I just hope my body is right when the time comes around. We have a solid team and a good chance.
“That’s in the future. Our first focus is winning the world series this year and that will bring a lot of confidence going into next year, the Olympics year.”
The All Blacks Sevens have the Toulouse and London stops on the HSBC World Rugby Series to be played this month. They should clinch the title in Toulouse if they make the semifinals.
But whatever the sevens stage, one thing is for sure – the pocket rocket from Tauranga will continue to make the tough tackles and dive fearlessly into dangerous areas.
It’s just what Leroy Carter loves doing.
Teams: All Blacks Sevens, NZ Under 20, Bay of Plenty Steamers, Chiefs, Tauranga Boys’ College (First XV), Tauranga Sports (club)
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