New Zealand are determined to move on from Dan Carter‘s World Cup-ending injury, but the focus has now switched to captain Richie McCaw’s foot problem.
Carter, who has amassed a record 1,250 points during his 85-cap Test career, tore a groin tendon in kicking practice last Saturday, ending his participation in the tournament and leaving a nation wondering whether their 24-year wait to lift the William Webb Ellis Cup can be realised without the inspirational playmaker.
The All Blacks assistant coach, Steve Hansen, said: “We won’t lose the World Cup because Dan Carter’s not playing, we’ll lose it because we haven’t played well enough.”
The performance and fitness of openside flanker and talismanic skipper McCaw is now key to the All Blacks’ continued hope of success. McCaw is set to be included in the team for Sunday’s quarter-final with Argentina despite taking limited part in contact work this week.
Hansen said: “He’s great. He’s going to play on Sunday. He’s done plenty of training, it’s just the type of training he does. We don’t get him involved in the cleanout for example, the physical, hard-body contact stuff. He does other training. It’s fine.
“People are going to have little niggles, it’s just how big a threshold you’ve got for that pain. We’re down to the business end and whilst we’re still in the tournament he’ll be available. We’re just going to have to make sure we do what we’ve done with him all year and what he’s done at the Crusaders and that’s manage it.”
Colin Slade is set to be given the chance to fill Carter’s boots at Eden Park, with the Hurricanes No10 Aaron Cruden called into the 30-man squad to replace the Crusaders fly-half.
Hansen added: “Dan Carter’s a great player. Really disappointed for him. But what an opportunity for Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden. Crudes can’t get the smile off his face. One man’s misery is another man’s joy.”
Slade could be handed the additional responsibility of being New Zealand’s goal-kicker, but the honour could also go to scrum-half Piri Weepu.
Hansen said: “Both of them are very, very good kickers. Colin Slade’s actually kicked more conversions than anyone else in the tournament [equal to that of South Africa’s Morne Steyn]. So he’s kicking well.
“But when Piri came on the other day, in very, very difficult conditions, he kicked well. We’ll make the decision that’s right for the team on the day.”
While McCaw, Slade and Weepu are likely to start against the Pumas, the wing Zac Guildford has been ruled out by a hamstring injury.
Hansen said: “Zac is very unlikely to be available to play. He got scanned last night and he’s got a very, very small tear and we can’t see that coming right [for this week]. But we’ll have to see.”