Carter and Arnold: The giant debt of gratitude that keeps driving two Brumbies big men

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

At 200cm and 117kg, Sam Carter looks down into most conversations.

It used to be rare that Carter risked a crook neck peering up at another human but that’s what started happening regularly after the summer of 2014/15.

It was then that Carter met a gangly new recruit at the Brumbies by the name of Rory Arnold.

Standing at a lazy 208cm. Apparently has a twin brother somewhere, exact same dimensions.

"Very bloody big,” Carter recalls about his first impressions.

"He was very big, very raw and very aggressive.”

The rawness of Arnold was understandable. 

The giant had only started playing rugby three years earlier, for Murwillumbah’s single team - the Bananas - who played in the third grade of the Far North Coast rugby comp.

Working in a sugar mill, Arnold played inside centre in that team but his size and talent (he won the competition’s best player from third grade) saw him shift to the Gold Coast to play lock in the Brisbane club comp, and then down to the Brumbies via a stint in South Africa’s Currie Cup.

"When I first lobbed down to Canberra, Carts wasn’t there for pre-season because he was off with the Wallabies but when he got back he was obviously an established starting lock and one of the big dogs,” Arnold recalls.

“He was definitely someone I looked up to. You are always trying to learn and Carts was well established by the time I got there.

“I respected him and I looked at what he did well and tried to mirror that. I probably should thank him for being someone I could turn to in the last four or give years.”

With Carter’s help, Arnold shook off the green and the pair have spent much of the last five years with an arm wrapped around each other in Canberra, and occasionally in Wallaby gold as well.

But this weekend Carter and Arnold will potentially play their last game at home together, when the Brumbies meet the Sharks in the Super Rugby quarter-finals in Canberra. 

Both are leaving the Brumbies at the end of the season, whenever that is, with Carter joining Irish province Ulster and Arnold to play for Toulouse in France.

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Winning a Super Rugby title first is the goal, and not in a nice-to-have-on the way out fashion, either.

Such is their dedication to winning silverware with the Brumbies, both Carter and Arnold have turned down truckloads of overseas money in recent years to be exactly where they are now - poised on the edge of the Super Rugby finals, with good form, confidence and momentum in their kit bag.

Arnold turned down massive money to join Montpellier and Toulon in 2016 to re-sign with the Brumbies and Australian rugby, and Carter has also had a steady procession of suitors in France, Japan and the UK.

He turned them all down to stay in Canberra - including European heavyweights Saracens.

From both, the explanation is simple: they'd owed their careers to the Brumbies, and now they owe them finals success too.

"Canberra has been incredible to me,” Arnold said.

"I never thought I would play professional rugby and to get a chance to not only do that, but play alongside my twin brother (Richie) last year, and then to get a chance to represent my country, I would have never got that opportunity without the Brumbies,” Arnold said.

"They gave me the opportunity to come down and give it a go, so Canberra will always hold a special place in my heart. I owe them a lot, on and off the field. I can honestly say coming down here changed my life.”

Carter was something of a late-bloomer, too, after toiling away with Sydney University before the Brumbies and the Waratahs both offered the chance to train over the summer of 2010/11 with their academies. He was 21.

"I sat down with my parents and they said: 'look, Canberra has a rich history in giving people an opportunity and turning their careers around, it’s a place to prove yourself and start something new’,” Carter recalls.

"I was never the most naturally gifted in that regard but I always tried to work hard. I knew I could compete and I think when I came down here I fell in the perfect environment for those two things.

"I had a chance to learn from a lot of good people, a lot of good players and good staff and it ended up suiting me really well.

"The thing I like most about the Brumbies is it is historically been a place where you can go for an opportunity and it is a place to prove yourself. 

"Some of the players who have come through have been humbled and knocked back by other clubs, and come to Canberra and worked their ass off and got a crack at Super Rugby.

"That kind of mentality creates a really good culture and a good environment to be in. That’s something I have loved in all my time I have been in Canberra.”

It’s a professional career, sure, but Carter says he's never viewed rugby as a vehicle to bank as much money.

He has made his decisions based on a love for the Brumbies and chasing the buzz of wearing a Wallabies jersey.

"For me it has never really been about the money. It is about building something,” Carter said.

“I have always kinda said I got annoyed at players who did their two years and then left, so I really wanted to make a point that if I was doing something and building something, I would do it for a while.

"If you play rugby, you play to win. You play to be successful. Especially for a team that you are so involved with and a team in which you have such great relationships. It just makes it that little bit more special.”

Carter and Arnold aren’t exactly peas in a pod but they’re definitely on the same wavelength, transmitting up there in the thin air of 200cm-plus.

They talk to each other more than any other teammate because there’s always a lineout or scrum to pack, or preview. Or review.

Carter says Arnold doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his rugby IQ.

"Every sees the physical and the aggressive side but once you get to know him and you peel back those layers, you see how much he cares and how much he dedicates to the team being successful,” Carter says.

“What a lot of people don’t see is how hard he has actually worked to get where he is,” 

"Watching footage, doing the study and getting across all that little detail, which makes him as good as what he is on the footy field.

The Wallabies were physical in Dunedin. Photo: Getty Images"He has turned into a real student of rugby and he is always prepping what his role is, with a lot of the opposition stuff. 

"And it shows when he plays as well, because he is going out there and is a complete footballer."

On Saturday, they’ll go about their business as a pair for what they hope will be the third-last time as Brumbies teammates.

They’ll be central to their team’s chances of victory, almost literally. The Carter-Arnold engine room to the scrum, and in the lineout, will be the platform upon which a victory would be built.

Carter is the lineout caller and he still knows what he first knew in that summer of 2014.

"He is very good to have out there because I know if we get him top-of-jump, the opposition really isn’t in the contest at all,” Carter says.

“He is a big unit.”