New Zealand Rugby
All Blacks happy with fly-half options
July 2, 2011
All Blacks coach Wayne Smith chats to fly-half Dan Carter during last year's tour of Europe © Getty Images
All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith has played down fears that his side lack an able deputy for first-choice fly-half Dan Carter.
New Zealand face a selection dilemma ahead of this year's Tri-Nations and Rugby World Cup with no genuine rival to Carter yet to emerge during the battle for Super Rugby supremacy. But Smith is not too concerned and is confident they have viable options should "the worst happen" and their talismanic playmaker is sidelined through injury.
The Hurricanes' Aaron Cruden and the Highlanders' Colin Slade appear to be in the running having been included in the latest All Blacks training camp with Blues' Stephen Brett and Luke McAlister also likely to figure following the end of their impressive Super Rugby campaign but none in particular appear to have won the favour of the team management.
"It would be difficult in any country to find two players of the ability of Dan Carter," said Smith. "But that is not to say there are no players here who can play Test match rugby because we have players who can and have done so. The trouble is that they are always measured against the Daniel Carter yardstick."
Cruden, whose side failed to make an impression in this year's Super Rugby campaign, and Slade, who made his latest comeback from injury this weekend, appear to leading the race despite having only seven caps between them but Smith believes both have Test match quality.
"The two players we have just had at our training camp, Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden, are two players who have been involved in Test match rugby and helped us win a big Test match in Sydney where Aaron played 60 minutes and Colin player the final 20 minutes. So they have had a taste, they are both still young and exciting and have a lot of potential but they are not Dan Carter at this point.
"But there are also players like Stephen Brett and Luke McAlister who have had good seasons as well Stephen Donald who may not be involved at the moment but has been in the past and who we have a lot of time for. So we have got a lot of confidence that we will be OK if the worst happens."
Carter's own form has been called into question recent weeks but Smith sees no reason to doubt the 29-year-old's ability to deliver when it matters most. "Rugby is like most things," added Smith. "You tend to look at the most immediate thing or last performance and that colours opinion. By his own admission he did not set the world on fire last weekend or the week before that but prior to that he has been in outstanding form.
"For example, against the Blues game in Timaru. I don't think the Crusaders would have won that game without Daniel. They were under the pump for 20 minutes, had one minute in Blues territory and Dan pulled off a cross field kick that ended with a try. I think he's playing well, he's a great footballer and he is still recovering from a rather significant hamstring injury so is only just starting to work on his speed and agility again."
The All Blacks will name their squad for this year's Tri-Nations on July 10 - the day after this year's Super Rugby Final.
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