New Zealand beat Canada 79-15 in their final Pool A mtach, but their stand-in at fly-half put in an error-strewn performance.
No-frills Slade makes shaky start in place of Dan Carter for All Blacks
WELLINGTON // Colin Slade made a nervous start after being thrusted into the spotlight as the replacement for New Zealand's star fly-half Dan Carter in the 79-15 win against Canada, turning in an error-strewn performance before hobbling off injured.
With the All Blacks still reeling from news that Carter will miss the rest of the Rugby World Cup with a serious groin injury picked up at training yesterday, Slade found himself promoted from understudy to New Zealand's main playmaker.
However, Henry indicated before the match that he may prefer a no-frills playmaker in Carter's absence, saying Slade and Cruden would need to "work within boundaries that are possible".
"If you've only been out there half a dozen times, it's not so intuitive, so you need to spend the time making sure the clarity's right, and maybe a wee bit more simple, so the menu's not too large it becomes overwhelming," he said.
Whether he believes Slade can offer that solidity after Sunday's display remains to be seen.
Slade is seen as the more traditional fly-half, with a solid kicking and defensive game, while Aaron Cruden, called into the All Blacks squad and has only six Test caps, possesses more attacking flair.
Henry also has the option of Piri Weepu, who put in a more competent shift for New Zealand when Slade was moved out on to the wing.
Whoever Henry chooses at No 10, they now face the task of guiding the All Blacks in a quarter-final against Argentina, who recovered from a 7-5 half-time deficit earlier today to beat Georgia 25-7 and join England in qualifying from Pool B.
"You can't lie about it, he's [Carter] going to be pretty hard to replace," Andrew Hore, New Zealand's stand-in captain, said. "He's a pretty special player.
"We just got to get around there and make sure all 29 of us left get in there and make it easy for the guy wearing No 10. They played pretty well today and if we can keep building on that we'll go a long way towards winning this thing."
As a staging post en-route to the quarter-finals, today's match is only moderately pleasing to New Zealand. Although they scored 12 tries from an almost relentless attack but lacked complete control. Slade was, at best, a work in progress.
"We went out there to focus on getting our scrum going and we're pretty happy with how that went. The line-out went well but the real concern is the kickoff and how we put ourselves under pressure after scoring points," Hore said.
"It's great to see some of those backs who haven't played a lot of footy, like Zac Guildford, get out there and cross the chalk four times is pretty special. We've got a talented squad and hopefully we can make use of it the next couple of weeks."
If Slade's nerves were on edge at the start of the match, they were not helped when his first attempted kick, inside the opening minute, was charged down and Ander Monro, the Canada fly-half, who kicked a penalty from the ensuing breakdown for a 3-0 lead.
He redeemed himself when, in the sixth minute, he created the first of four tries from the winger Zac Guildford, slicing through hesitant interior defence and hurling a long, cross field pass to the left winger to dive over near the corner. Slade's confidence rose a little when he curled in the conversion from the touchline.
Vito, starting a Test at openside flanker for the first time in place of the injured All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, added New Zealand's second try five minutes later but Slade's conversion faded wide. McCaw's was the first injury to hit the All Blacks on the eve of the match and Carter's was the second in a perfect storm which robbed New Zealand of captain and vice-captain.
Slade kicked a 14th-minute penalty but missed conversions of a try by Israel Dagg in the 20th minute and Guildford's second four minutes later.
Guildford had a hand in Dagg's try, hitting the line hard and straight on the right side, creating space then working his hands through tackles to free Dagg on the right wing. He scored his second when Canada winger Conor Trainor failed to control a kick into the in-goal area, then made a try for the fullback Mils Muliaina in his 99th Test.
Guildford had his third try after 34 minutes when Sonny Bill Williams fractured the Canadian defence, made ground and put in a kick which was recovered by Muliaina who released Guildford to straighten for the line.
Canada were rewarded for a first half in which they held 76 per cent of territory when Trainor scored a try just before the break, hitting the backline hard and at pace after a five-metre scrum.
Trainor had his second when a breakdown in the All Blacks' midfield allowed the winger to kick through, to reclaim the ball near the line and to ground it in an arm wrestle with the cover defence. Monro converted.
New Zealand hit back immediately with a try to the scrum-half Jimmy Cowan, created by Conrad Smith and converted by Slade. Kaino scored his first try in the 51st minute and his second in the 67th, on either side of a try to Williams.
Slade converted Kaino's first to finish with five successes from nine attempts before handing the kicking to Weepu who kicked four from four.
Guildford added his fourth and Vito his second before the end.