All Black coaches Graham Henry and Wayne Smith insist they’re happy with their options at fly-half despite losing star performer Dan Carter to injury.
Former IRB World Player of the Year Carter was ruled out of the World Cup with a groin injury at the weekend, leading many Kiwi observers to question the All Blacks’ choice of back up playmakers.
Colin Slade, the 23-year-old Highlanders pivot, Hurricanes scrum-half Piri Weepu or the recently called up Aaron Cruden will now have the weight of the entire nation on their shoulders as they look to guide the All Blacks to a first world crown since 1987.
Slade has played just one full season of Super Rugby at fly-half after spending two years mainly being employed on the wing or at full back by previous outfit the Crusaders due to Carter’s huge presence. But Slade impressed in Sunday’s hammering of Japan and Henry and Smith believe he will get better and better if given the No10 shirt for the rest of the competition.
Weepu, who replaced Slade for the closing stages of the 75-22 victory over the Japanese, is by far the most experienced of the trio with 54 international caps but it is Slade who looks destined to make a name for himself in the knockout stages.
"Going forward … well, Colin Slade's the boy," said Henry.
"He played pretty well for a large part of the game against Japan. He just needs more football so the more times we can get him out there the better he's going to be."
Henry has admitted, however, that the All Blacks may have to alter the variety of their game plan against Argentina and then South Africa or Australia in order to ensure that Slade doesn’t have too much on his plate.
"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 so large it becomes overwhelming,” added the former Lions coach.
"We just have to track him and see how he's performing out there and how he's hanging together physically."
But while Henry has hinted at the need to make things as easy as possible for Slade, Smith insists there will be no changes to the way in which the All Blacks approach their goal of winning the World Cup.
The ex-Northampton boss believes Slade’s team-mates have the utmost faith in him and that is ultimately what matters.
"We haven't altered the bar at all, so plans remain the same, expectations are exactly the same, belief of the squad is exactly the same. We don't see anything's changed," said Smith.
"He's got huge credibility in the squad and there's a lot of belief in him.
"In my experience if you walk in the company of people who believe in you you're going to achieve."