All eyes will be fixed upon the man who fills the jersey vacated by Dan Carter when the All Blacks step onto Eden Park in the Rugby World Cup 2011 quarter-final against Argentina on Sunday.
Colin Slade is the man expected to be thrust into the No.10 jersey in the pressure cooker of rugby’s biggest stage, after Carter’s greatness for a decade has virtually shut out every candidate on the production line of future Kiwi five-eighths.
On face value, the 23-year-old appears to be on a hiding to nothing. If the All Blacks win the Webb Ellis Cup, the men around Slade will be given the credit for carrying the rookie half; if they lose, no doubt his head will be on the chopping block.
Carter’s absence signalled the end of New Zealand’s chances at Rugby World Cup 2011.
“If there is one man they can’t do without, it is Dan Carter because Colin Slade is on a different planet completely,” Martin said.
“They cannot win the World Cup if Dan Carter is not there.”
New Zealand rugby commentator Tony Johnson accepts the loss of arguably the world’s greatest player will make the job a whole lot tougher for the All Blacks, but he says it isn’t terminal to their campaign.
“With Carter there, I think they were probably warm favourites to win the tournament,” Johnson said.
“I wouldn’t say they were favourites anymore, but I don’t think you should rule them out either.
“Colin Slade and Piri Weepu are both capable of servicing a midfield that’s the equal of anything in the tournament.
“You’ve got Nonu, Conrad Smith and Sonny Bill Williams; you compare that to any other midfield in the tournament and they’re not exactly playing at a disadvantage there are they?
“What it does is put the focus on other players in the team.
“Obviously there is going to be a lot of pressure on Slade.
“To be fair, in the time he’s played Test rugby, he’s had some good moments and he’s had some not good moments. I think back to last year when the All Blacks won in Sydney, he came on and closed out the game very well.
“I think if he can come up with similar stuff, I wouldn’t be ruling New Zealand out too quickly.”
Johnson acknowledges that Slade is “light years” behind Carter in terms of talent and expertise, but says he “probably doesn’t lose a lot compared to a number of the No.10s still in the tournament”.
“He’s prepared to attack the line, he’s got a pretty good passing game, and he doesn’t sit back in the pocket like one or two of the best wearing the No.10 jersey do,” Johnson said.
“He really now, rather than the navigator, becomes the facilitator to what is outside of him.
“Obviously he’s not Carter. But then, who is?”
One of the greater concerns stemming from Carter’s untimely tournament exit is this: the All Blacks must find a surrogate for the pinpoint accuracy of his trusty left boot.
Slade struggled with the goalkicking duties in his All Blacks audition against Canada, missing five of his attempts.
Johnson highlighted Weepu as a potential option to alleviate some of the pressure on the young playmaker.
“What they may do is start Weepu at halfback; he’s a very good goalkicker,” Johnson said.
“But they’ll definitely go with Slade (at five-eighth).
“And if Slade doesn’t come up, they’ve still got options.
“Aaron Cruden played brilliantly in the ITM Cup. In fact, a lot of people felt that he was good enough to be in the squad.
“In two or three years’ time, Aaron Cruden will be as good as anything going around.
“But it might be a little bit early for him now.”
Buford Balony says: NZ are clutching at straws if they think Slade is anywhere near other 10’s. Wallabies have at least 4 better 10’s than Slade. Kiwis will be hoping the Springboks beat the Wallabies on the weekend as they know we will beat them to continue the All Blacks CHOKEFEST.