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Weepu stands tall for All Blacks against Argentina

Updated: October 09, 2011, 06:08


AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Replacing Dan Carter was never going to be an easy task but Argentina made it clear how large a hole the star flyhalf's absence has left in the All Blacks' armory.

In the first real searching examination since the leading points-scorer in test history withdrew injured from the World Cup, New Zealand's lack of direction at first receiver was exposed in the tension-ridden 33-10 win over the Pumas in the quarterfinals at Eden Park on Sunday.

Flyhalf Colin Slade was replaced in the 33rd minute after receiving a slight knock, but his nervy performance until then may have played a part in coach Graham Henry's decision.

The diminutive Aaron Cruden was much livelier in taking on the line, making several darting runs or looming in support of teammates. But he dropped the ball in the 63rd minute after declining to pass to an unmarked Conrad Smith only 10 meters out to ruin a certain try.

In fact, it soon became clear that scrumhalf Piri Weepu has been anointed Carter's successor as playmaker.

From the base of scrums and breakdowns, Weepu controlled the tempo of play by drawing his forwards in tight, passing long or even punt-kicking to wide-running players on the flanks. He also took over the goal-kicking duties, landing seven from eight attempts to total 21 points.

Slade made an inauspicious start, dropping a routine pass from makeshift scrumhalf Brad Thorn in the seventh minute and allowing an Argentina player to toe the ball to within meters of the All Blacks' try line. The situation was recovered but the anxiety levels remained high.

Slade's instructions looked clear: keep it simple and keep passing to marauding center Ma'a Nonu.

Not even that went to plan. A simple pass drifted slightly behind a loitering Tony Woodcock and went to ground. Slade himself then went to ground injured and required treatment. He soon rose to pass the last ball but Kieran Read stepped out before diving over in the corner.

It got worse.

Argentina scored a breakout try in the 31st minute after a defense-splitting run by Leonardo Senatore and some deft handling by Felipe Contepomi allowed Martin Rodriguez to get within a meter of the line. Julio Farias Cabello drove over through some ineffectual defense.

Two minutes later, Slade was off. He looked anxiously toward the sideline and saw the Nos. 10 and 21 boards raised. Cruden was on.

Cruden was immediately welcomed with a crude head-high hit from Contepomi, allowing Weepu to extend the lead to 12-7 by halftime.

The replacement pivot recovered to inject some pace around the midfield channel but he never had his hands on the team's tiller. That was left to Weepu, whose cutout pass to Jerome Kaino allowed the flanker to find Read for an All Blacks try that finally ended the Pumas' defiance.

Next up is Australia in the semifinals, but is it asking too much of Weepu to play scrumhalf, kick goals and act as Carter's successor?

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