All Blacks finish off Canada at Rugby World Cup
Winger Zac Guildford scored four of New Zealand's 12 tries in a 79-15 win over Canada on Sunday, while Colin Slade failed to seize his moment hours after becoming the All Blacks' first-choice No. 10 for the pressured knockout rounds of the Rugby World Cup.
Slade stepped into a glaring spotlight after being nominated by coach Graham Henry as New Zealand's flyhalf-elect to replace Daniel Carter, who has been forced out of the tournament with a groin injury.
The 23-year-old Slade started for only the fourth time in his nine-test career and in what, in normal circumstances, might have been low-key match and a moderate test of his temperament and ability. New Zealand had already qualified for the quarterfinals and its win over Canada clinched a 4-0 sweep of its Pool A.
But Slade's performance came under much closer scrutiny as New Zealanders grappled with the knowledge that Carter, the cornerstone of its Rugby World Cup campaign and the leading point scorer in international rugby, will take no further part in the tournament. All eyes were on Carter's replacement for signs that the novice has the composure and the skill to direct the remainder of the All Blacks' Cup campaign.
Guildford wrested the spotlight away from Slade in his first appearance at the Rugby World Cup, scoring three first-half tries, another in the second half and contributing to two others. Slade was less impressive, working steadily in general play but struggling to judge a swirling wind and managing only five from nine kicks at goal.
He was moved to the right wing after 51 minutes, when Piri Weepu took over at flyhalf, and was eventually replaced in the 64th minute, forcing flanker Victor Vito to see out the game on the wing.
He now faces the task of guiding New Zealand in a quarterfinal against Argentina, which recovered from a 7-5 halftime deficit earlier Sunday to beat Georgia 25-7 and to join England in qualifying from Pool B.
"You can't lie about it, he's [Carter] going to be pretty hard to replace," said New Zealand's stand-in captain Andrew Hore. "He's a pretty special player.
"We just got to get around there and make sure all 29 of us left get in there and make it easy for the guy wearing No. 10. They played pretty well today and, if we can keep building on that, we'll go a long way towards winning this thing."
If Slade's nerves were on edge at the start of Sunday's match, they weren't helped when his first attempted kick, inside the opening minute, was charged down and Canada flyhalf Ander Monro kicked a penalty from the ensuing breakdown for a 3-0 lead.
He almost immediately redeemed himself when, in the sixth minute, he created Guildford's first try, slicing through hesitant interior defence and hurling a long, crossfield pass to the left winger to dive over near the corner. Slade's confidence rose a little when he curled in the conversion from the touchline.
Vito, starting a test at openside flanker for the first time in place of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, added New Zealand's second try five minutes later but Slade's conversion faded wide. McCaw's was the first injury to hit the All Blacks on the eve of the match and Carter's was the second in a perfect storm which robbed New Zealand of captain and vice-captain.
Slade kicked a 14th-minute penalty but missed conversions of a try by Israel Dagg in the 20th minute and Guildford's second four minutes later.
Guildford had a hand in Dagg's try, hitting the line hard and straight on the right side, creating space then working his hands through tackles to free Dagg on the right wing. He scored his second when Canada winger Conor Trainor failed to control a kick into the in-goal area, then made a try for fullback Mils Muliaina in his 99th test.
Guildford had his third try after 34 minutes when Sonny Bill Williams fractured the Canadian defence, made ground and put in a kick which was recovered by Muliaina who released Guildford to straighten for the line.
Canada was rewarded for a first half in which it held 76 per cent of territory when Trainor scored a try just before the break, hitting the backline hard and at pace after a 5-meter scrum.
Trainor had his second when a breakdown in the All Blacks' midfield allowed the winger to kick through, to reclaim the ball near the line and to ground it in an arm wrestle with the cover defence. Monro converted.
New Zealand hit back immediately with a try to scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan, created by centre Conrad Smith and converted by Slade. Kaino scored his first try in the 51st minute and his second in the 67th, on either side of a try to Williams. Slade converted Kaino's first to finish with a 5-9 record before handing the kicking to Weepu who kicked four from four.
Guildford added his fourth and Vito his second before the end.
As a staging post en-route to the quarterfinals, Sunday's match was only moderately pleasing to New Zealand. It scored 12 tries from an almost relentless attack but lacked complete control. Slade was, at best, a work in progress.
"We went out there to focus on getting our scrum going and we're pretty happy with how that went. The lineout went well but the real concern is the kickoff and how we put ourselves under pressure after scoring points," Hore said.
"It's great to see some of those backs who haven't played a lot of footy, like Zac Guildford, get out there and cross the chalk four times is pretty special. We've got a talented squad and hopefully we can make use of it the next couple of weeks."
Canada, who finished 1-1-2 in pool matches, lost valiant flanker Adam Kleeburger before the end in a head clash with All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock.