Wellington - All Blacks coach Graham Henry has anointed Colin Slade his flyhalf of choice to replace injured superstar Dan Carter at the Rugby World Cup after Sunday's win over Canada, saying "Colin Slade's the boy!"
Slade was ushered reluctantly into the spotlight when he took the field in the No 10 jersey in New Zealand's 79-15 win over Canada, only hours after it was revealed that Carter was out of the tournament with a serious groin injury.
Henry had already tapped the 23-year-old Slade as his preferred backup and sent him onto the field in only his ninth Test match with the tacit challenge of vindicating that faith.
Slade was sound but never spectacular in general play and succeeded with only five of nine goalkicks in a swirling wind. He moved from flyhalf to the wing after 51 minutes and limped from the field in the 64th after tightening up due to his recent lack of game time.
New Zealand rugby fans, still numbed by the loss of Carter, may not yet be convinced Slade is the man to pick up the torch for the tournament's high-pressure knockout rounds. But Henry expressed full confidence in Slade's ability and in the stopgap option provided by scrumhalf Piri Weepu, who finished at flyhalf on Sunday and kicked four goals from four attempts.
"Going forward ... well, Colin Slade's the boy," Henry said. "He played pretty well for a large part of the game today. He just needs more football so the more times we can get him out there the better he's going to be.
"Piri played better the more time he was in the No 10 position and played pretty well in the last 10 minutes of the game when we started to respect the weather conditions and started to put the ball behind the opposition and play with a bit of balance."
Henry admitted some reservations about Slade's goalkicking success rate but again highlighted the option provided by Weepu, both as a tactical substitute at flyhalf and as a proxy goalkicker if the first option fails.
"As I said before, we see Colin as the guy to play," Henry said. "It's good to see the two guys who played 10 today carry the position pretty well. Piri hasn't played there a lot ... so there's advancement going on which is great.
"We'd like to see (Slade) kick them all (goals) but we've got two guys out there who can kick goals and if Piri plays (scrumhalf) he can kick goals too. And he's probably the more consistent goalkicker at this level, simply because he's played a lot more Test football."
Henry reiterated his sympathy for Carter who entered the tournament regarded as the world's best flyhalf and now leaves with his job only partly done.
"It's a tragedy, really," Henry said. "I just feel for this young fellow.
"He's been 10 years building up to this World Cup probably. It probably wasn't in his vision 10 years ago but certainly over the last few years, and it was a big stage for him ... 29, at the peak of his powers and that's been taken away from him.
"It's very sad and I feel a great deal of sympathy for him. He's handled it, as he always does, with character. He's obviously hugely disappointed but he's handled it very well, he's got huge support."
Henry also applauded the performance of winger Zac Guildford, who scored four tries on Sunday in his first appearance at the World Cup. Guildford was forced to appear at a news conference two weeks ago to admit breaches of the New Zealand team's alcohol policy.
"He played particularly well because he's had a number of challenges but he's been outstanding in the group," Henry said. "The guys we don't pick in the (match) 22 we call the standard-setters and he's set very good standards over the last four weeks and he's trained particularly hard and well and that was reflected in the way he played tonight."