Slade says he'll be Slade, not Dan Carter
Updated: October 06, 2011, 20:14
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) While New Zealanders wait nervously to see if Colin Slade can win the Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks have given the young flyhalf their full support before the quarterfinal with Argentina.
The full glare of New Zealand's intense rugby spotlight has been on Slade since last Sunday, when the nation was shocked by the news that Dan Carter was out of the tournament after a tendon tear in his groin. Without the world's best flyhalf and the all-time highest scorer in test rugby, the tournament hosts took a major hit to their confidence in trying to end a 24-year World Cup drought.
Few were fully convinced Slade was still the ideal replacement when, hours later, he gave a solid performance in the pivotal position in the 79-15 pool win over Canada. Even scrumhalf Piri Weepu, who shared the kicking duties with Slade against Canada, admitted he bought into the speculation that he might be played at flyhalf against the Pumas.
Slade said he's avoided newspapers and TV this week while his countrymen have debated his merits and otherwise.
"It's an opportunity I've got to think positively about,'' Slade said on Friday. "I can't be burdened by (replacing Carter) because at the end of the day I've got to be excited about it.
"It's what every young fellow dreams of I suppose, to play in a World Cup, albeit through the disappointment of DC's injury.
"I'm a young guy but I'm pretty enthusiastic about it and pretty excited about the opportunity. I'm going out there to be me, I'm not going out there to be DC. I'm going to play my game and lead the team the best way I know how.''
His teammates and coach Graham Henry were confident Slade's best will be good enough on Sunday, a day before his 24th birthday.
Henry said Slade, as flyhalf, will have to be the navigator of the team.
"He's got to run the ship,'' Henry said, "and that's a big ask when he's playing with guys who have played 100 test matches and 85 test matches, and he's played nine. But I think he's getting more comfortable, I think he's enjoying the environment, and I think he'll play well.''
The 52-capped Conrad Smith, who will be beside Slade in midfield, said they have an abiding trust in new players who're picked for the All Blacks, and Slade has already proved himself to the team.
"Everyone trusts you've got the quality to handle pressure situations that come with being an All Black,'' Smith said. "Regardless of the position you don't need to help them. They'll step up. You've got to have faith in them and that way, if they're good enough, they'll return the favor.
"That's what Sladey's done and that's what countless players have done in the All Black jersey. You put trust in them and you put faith in them and they deliver and that's when the team really functions.''
Fullback Mils Muliaina, who will celebrate his 100th test on Sunday, said Slade would get out of Carter's shadow by playing his own way.
"Sladey needs to just keep being himself and he's been doing that,'' Muliaina said. "He's training well, his preparation is going really well and we've just got to get in behind him and back what he's got.''
Slade said it makes it easier on him knowing he's got his teammates backing. He's also known all week that he'll be starting on Sunday at Eden Park, rather than being a late fill-in after injuries to Carter before the games with Japan and Canada.
"It's made me calm down I suppose and realize that they are going to help me out to do what's best for the team,'' he said.
Even though Henry declined to say who between Slade and Weepu would replace Carter as goalkicker, Slade said he was making the usual preparations to be the kicker.