Dark days in New Zealand: Dan Carter, poster boy for the nation and the best rugby player in the world, has injured himself during a training session and is out of action for the rest of the Rugby World Cup, just as the All Blacks reach the knock-out stages of the tournament.
However, all is not lost: step up Colin Slade, recently of the Unfortunate XV and now the great white saviour of my fair country!
All jokes aside, it’s dreadful news that Carter’s out of action, but it’s dreadful mainly because of poor Carter being unable to take part in any further games. He’s spent four years preparing for this event and has chosen to re-sign to the New Zealand Rugby Union and resist the urge to chase the almighty pay packets available to a player of his calibre. The hope of being in a RWC-winning team must have, in part, influenced his decision, and now he’s on crutches and possibly facing surgery. It’s tragic for the guy.
Somewhat predictably, there’s been a fair degree of freaking out about the impact that this injury might have on our chances in the tournament. But I’m not worried. Carter is a magnificent player, but he’s only one guy in an outstanding team. If the boys can’t overcome this hurdle and go on to do well, the team isn’t good enough. And it’s scarcely as though we are without good, viable options. Colin Slade is a very good player. He’s no Dan Carter, but that’s because you can only have one best player in the world. He would easily walk into pretty much any other national team in the world, and half of New Zealand is acting like he’s never been on the field before. And he’s not our only option, either: Piri Weepu can go well in this position and Aaron Cruden has been called up to take part.
We’ve lost a huge advantage by losing our star playmaker, but I believe that this will force the rest of the team and, in particular, the senior players, to step up and make the hard decisions on the field. Losing Carter from the squad means that we don’t have a superstar fly-half in the team now, but we have a first choice fly-half who is as good as the fly-half players in every other team. We need to get behind Team Slade and believe in this young guy (and he’s so flipping young: he’ll turn 24 next Monday, the day after he guides us through a quarter-final victory over Argentina), because confidence is everything in this game. Can you imagine being 23, being good enough to be selected for the world’s best rugby team, and have half of your own country talking about you like you’re useless? Graham Henry has faith in Slade, and we should as well.
And just as importantly, we need to enjoy the rest of this amazing tournament! The Rugby World Cup has been so fantastic and I feel sorry for any Kiwis who are living abroad at the moment (even though the weather in the UK sounds fair better than it is in Auckland, at least today). We have four fantastic quarter-finals coming up this weekend:
Wales vs Ireland: I think Ireland is playing really well and I expect them to win this one, although it should be a close contest – the Welsh are also doing well in this tournament.
England vs France: the French team seems to be in total disarray and I think they’ll self-destruct. That would be a great thing for England, a team that’s been sub-par for the past six weeks. Tristan’s going to this game with our friend Davey, so I’m sure it will be a good event regardless of the result.
South Africa vs Australia: I know that there’s a lot of quality in the Wallabies, but I think the Boks will do what is needed to get a victory. I think they’ll pray for rain and then play the game in the forwards, confident that the Aussie scrum is really weak and is likely to lead to a lot of penalties. South Africa have had a big blow with the loss of Frans Steyn, a player who can kick a goal from 60m out and take advantage of any penalty awarded. However, I still think that the Boks can win this one, although I doubt that it will be a pretty victory.
New Zealand vs Argentina: My boys are going to win this, no worries at all. And I’m going! Davey and I will be there, mixing it up with the awesome Argentinian fans. I’ve already started planning my outfit.
Of course, if my last two predictions are correct we will have a South Africa vs New Zealand semi-final, which will make for a seriously tense 80 minutes in our living room in a fortnight’s time…
To push on with my predictions, my dream scenario is Ireland vs New Zealand for the final. Oh yes! And if we have a South Africa vs England final I might just go for a long walk or something (although with the entire country, I suspect).