Henry backs Slade but calls up Cruden for Carter

All Blacks coach Graham Henry has given replacement fly-half Dan Carter a ringing endorsement for the world cup despite his patchy performance against Canada.

“Going forward, Colin Slade’s the boy… he just needs to play more football,” Henry told reporters.

“The more we can play him, the better he’s going to get.”

Slade made a nervous start after being thrust into the spotlight in the 79-15 win against Canada Sunday, turning in an error-strewn performance before going off in the second half.

With the All Blacks still reeling from news that Carter will miss the rest of the World Cup with a serious groin injury picked up at training on Saturday, Slade found himself promoted from understudy to New Zealand’s main playmaker.

Slade, playing his 10th Test, received an early confidence boost when he set up New Zealand’s first try in the sixth minute, bursting through Canada’s defence and floating a beautifully-weighted 20-metre pass to Zac Guildford, the winger scoring in the corner.

But things went downhill from there for the 23-year-old as he threw some sloppy passes as first receiver, one of which almost resulted in an intercept try.

Slade also had a forgettable game with the boot, missing three of seven conversion attempts and a penalty before he was shifted to the wing early in the second half to make way for Piri Weepu at fly-half.

While 54-Test veteran Weepu, who normally plays scrum-half, looked comfortable in the playmaker role, albeit against a wilting Canadian team, Slade’s cameo on the wing lasted little more than 10 minutes before he hobbled off in the 64th minute.

Henry said Slade, who had an injury-marred Super 15 season, was not hurt but was pulled off because he was tiring, admitting the New Zealand coaching staff would be closely monitoring his fitness.

“We just have to track him and see how he’s performing out there and how he’s hanging together physically,” he said.

Henry was also full of praise for Weepu, who set up two tries and slotted home all four of his conversion attempts, including a difficult sideline effort, saying he could take over kicking duties from missing superboot Carter.

“He’s probably the most consistent goal kicker at this level because he’s played more Test football, so that could be the way we go,” the coach said.

Henry has another fly-half option in Aaron Cruden, who was called into the squad after Carter’s injury.

Slade is seen as the more traditional fly-half, with a solid kicking and defensive game, while Cruden, who has only six Test caps, possesses more attacking flair.

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.

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