Colin Slade is ready, willing and able to step into Dan Carter's shoes for the All Blacks in the knockout phase of the World Cup, coaches and team-mates said yesterday.
Carter, widely regarded as the best fly-half in the world, was ruled out of the rest of the tournament last weekend after injuring his groin in kicking practice, leaving the host nation fretting over the impact his absence will have on their title challenge.
Slade won his ninth cap as Carter's replacement in the dead-rubber final pool game against Canada and is expected to be handed the No 10 shirt for Sunday's quarter-final against Argentina at Eden Park.
Backs coach Wayne Smith attempted to ease the nation's jitters and said Slade had the full backing of the rest of the squad as he adjusted to being first choice.
"He's got a good skill set," Smith said. "He's a brave kid physically, he's strong in his defensive channel. So not too different to Daniel, really. Plans remain the same. Expectations are exactly the same. Belief of the squad is exactly the same. We don't see anything's changed.
"If you walk in the company of people who believe in you, you can achieve anything. He's got all the tools to make a go of it and he's got the belief and encouragement from the squad."
No 8 Kieran Read, who has overcome an ankle injury to be available for the Pumas tie, said he thought Slade had the temperament to deal with the job. "Colin is a pretty cool customer, he's got a level head on his shoulders," he said. "We expect that whoever is going to play will do the job and do it really well."
Aaron Cruden has been called up to replace Carter in the squad and Smith said the 22-year-old would be expected to play his natural game if he got his chance.
Despite his confidence that Slade would step up against Argentina, Read said Carter was a huge loss to the All Blacks. "We're hurt, man. He's a massive part of this group so within the squad we definitely are hurting for him," Read said. "It's really tough but what we've got to do is move on. The strength of our squad is what's going to win us this World Cup."