New Zealand coach Graham Henry gave his backing to Dan Carter’s replacement Colin Slade after his side destroyed Canada 79-15 to maintain their 100% record.
Carter was earlier ruled out of the tournament after sustaining a severe left groin injury in kicking practice on Saturday, all expectant eyes of a demanding Kiwi public immediately turned to see if Slade really could be heir apparent.
The fly-half sparked some early attacks that yielded a handful of tries against some woeful Canadian defence, but his performance was far from error-free and he was at times erratic with his kicking from hand and for goal.
He was shifted to the wing to accommodate the more accomplished goal-kicker Piri Weepu at stand-off, before he hobbled off in the 65th minute, tired more than injured, according to Henry.
Weepu dominated dominating the run-in to the final whistle, albeit against a wilting Canucks team, the All Blacks registering their fourth straight pool victory to set up a quarter-final against Argentina in Auckland next week.
“Going forward, Colin Slade’s the boy. He played pretty well for a long part of the game today,” Henry said.
“He just needs to play more football, so the more we can play him, the better he’s going to get.
“I think we saw that Piri can play there as well and he played better the more time he was in the number 10 position and played very well in the last 10 minutes of the game.
“Aaron Cruden’s joining the group on Monday, so we’ll take it from there.”
The scrum was also a highlight for the All Blacks, the Canucks being shunted off their own put-in on four occasions, leading to three tries in the 12-try to two romp.
“We went out there to focus on getting our scrum going. We are pretty happy with how that went, the lineout went pretty well as well,” said Andrew Hore, captaining the side in the absence of regular skipper Richie McCaw and Carter.
“We had a few problems before giving away penalties so we went out there with a plan on how to do it and we’re pretty pleased to turn over a bit of their ball and get a couple of tries off our scrum so it went well.
“Hopefully we can build it up because the Argentinian boys are definitiely going to be a step up so hopefully we can grow from that and be good to go next Sunday.”
Henry added that he had been happy with the quality and variety of their Pool A opponents, something observers said was severely lacking in 2007 when an undercooked All Blacks crashed out to France in the quarter-finals.
“The 20 teams have been stronger than they have been in previous World Cups,” Henry said. “It’s been better than before.”
The All Blacks coach will face an interesting selection dilemma in several positions come next weekend.
Guildford, in his first game since admitting a drink problem last month, put his hand up for a winger’s berth with an electric first-half display, the Canadian defence unable to cope with his sheer pace and jink.
And Victor Vito, who replaced McCaw at openside flanker, enjoyed an enormous game which saw him claim two tries, his second scored from the right wing, where he moved to replace Slade and the injured Israel Dagg.