Carter-less All Blacks look to move on
October 4, 2011
Penny for your thoughts: Graham Henry comes to terms with the loss of his playmaker © Getty Images
Dan Carter Felipe Contepomi Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe Sir Graham Henry Richie McCaw Colin Slade Piri Weepu
New Zealand's nightmare scenario became a reality last Sunday morning when All Blacks coach Graham Henry and team doctor Deb Robinson solemnly sat down before the assembled media to deliver the news that an entire nation had been dreading: Dan Carter's Rugby World Cup was over.
As soon as pictures began to emerge of the All Blacks playmaker lying in a crumpled heap after suffering a groin tear in training on the eve of their final pool game against Canada, it was clear that Carter's tournament was in jeopardy. However, while the confirmation did not come as a surprise, it did not lessen its impact.
So, what now? Well, the good news is that the All Blacks might not be as stuck for an able understudy as previously thought. Colin Slade performed reasonably well at times against the Canucks, while Piri Weepu advanced his claim on the No.10 jersey with a terrific display after coming on as a replacement. His goal-kicking was particularly impressive. The bad news is both remain unproven fly-halves at the very top level of international rugby. That was, after all, only Canada - and even France beat them.
Still, as Zac Guilford so pointedly underlined in Wellington, New Zealand still boast of squad of remarkable depth in nearly every other area of the field. There can be no doubt that they still possess the strongest side in the tournament.
However, they will still be feeling a tad more apprehensive about Sunday's date with Argentina than they would have been had their talismanic No.10 been fit. The Pumas are always awkward opposition.
Admittedly, they were truly awful in scraping past Georgia last weekend but, as they proved against both England and Scotland, they remain a very difficult nut to crack. They will still feel that they should have beaten England, while they demonstrated typical girt and doggedness in edging out the Scots. We also know from France 2007 that they have no issue with tackling a heavily-fancied home nation.
Up front, they remain a formidable proposition, even for the All Blacks. Although, the loss of Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe to injury is a massive blow in light of the challenge they are likely to face at the breakdown this weekend.
In addition, it is imperative that the back-line finds far more fluency in their play than they did against the Georgians last weekend, while Felipe Contepomi could also do with relocating his kicking boots if they are to have any hope of recording their first ever victory over the Kiwis.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Colin Slade stepped into Carter's boots last weekend but this game represents a major step up in class and pressure. Can he handle both and steer the All Blacks into the semi-finals?
New Zealand - Team News: Fullback Mils Muliaina will win his 100th Test cap and becomes only the second All Black to reach the milestone following captain Richie McCaw who returns to the starting XV after missing last week's Test against Canada with a sore foot. Elsewhere, Ma'a Nonu returns to inside centre, Slade fills the fly-half berth, Piri Weepu gets the nod at scrum-half while Sonny Bill Williams comes onto the right wing. Zac Guildford (hamstring), Israel Dagg (thigh haematoma) and Richard Kahui (hamstring) were unavailable for selection. In the forwards, hooker Keven Mealamu and lock Brad Thorn are also back on duty - replacing Andrew Hore and Ali Williams.
Argentina - Player to Watch: If the Pumas are to upset the odds then it will be up to the likes of flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon to set the tone with an all-action display.
Argentina - Team News: Argentina coach Santiago Phelan has named the same side that started their 13-12 victory over Scotland, with the exception of Leonardo Senatore who has taken over from the injured No.8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. Prop Rodrigo Roncero has been passed fit after overcoming a groin injury. He joins second row Manuel Carizza, winger Gonzalo Camacho and fullback Martin Rodriguez in returning to the starting line-up after all three were rested for their team's final pool match against Georgia. The side is once again captained by Felipe Contepomi, who needs just five points on Sunday to overtake Puma great Hugo Porta as Argentina's all-time leading points scorer.
Key Battle: If Argentina are to disrupt the All Blacks progress in this competition a lot will be asked of their front row of Rodrigo Roncero, Mario Ledesma and Juan Figallo who face a formidable challenge in the form of the All Blacks trio of Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Owen Franks.
Stats: Argentina are the lowest-scoring side left in the competition, having notched just 90 points in the pool stages
Trivia: New Zealand have the leakiest defence of the eight quarter-finalists, having shipped 49 points in the pool stages
"He is a special man and has been a world-class All Black for many years - the consummate professional really - as well as a very influential member of the All Blacks leadership group."
"If both teams play at 100 percent then the odds will be against us but it is sport and anything can happen in that 80 minutes."
Prediction: The All Blacks may have been stripped of their No.1 playmaker and their captain may be under an injury cloud but they should still have too much for what will be a determined but limited Pumas side.
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