All eyes will be on young fly-half Colin Slade after New Zealand was rocked by the loss of Daniel Carter for the rest of the World Cup ahead of today’s match against Canada in the capital, 3pm local time. Canada was meant to provide little more than a decent final hit-out against the hosts with the quarterfinals approaching; the Canucks have surprised many in the tournament to date, backing their brand of tactical rugby backed with an imposing forward pack that unsettled France and beat Tonga, but were not expected to pose any serious threat to the All Blacks. Carter’s tournament-ending groin injury has thrown Graham Henry’s plans in disarray, however, giving the match extra significance as the world watches to see how the tournament favourites react to the cruellest blow to their title chances so far.
First five issues notwithstanding, New Zealand field a strong side as Henry looks for his side to build momentum into the knockout stages. Sonny Bill Williams stakes his claim alongside the irreplaceable Conrad Smith in the midfield after impressive showings off the bench against France and Japan, while Mils Muliaina earns his 99th test cap at fullback in a new-look back three. Richie McCaw is missing due to a foot ‘niggle ’in an otherwise strong pack; New Zealand can breathe easy after their captain downplayed the extent of the injury as Victor Vito gains an unexpected start at seven in his place. Brad Thorn is rested as Ali Williams and Sam Whitelock duel over the one remaining locking position.
Kieren Crowley has been reluctant to make changes to his starting XV throughout the tournament and their swansong match appears to be no different; Matt Evans replaces James Pritchard due to concussion in the only change to the team that rescued a draw against Japan in the last match. The bearded Canadian forward pack has been strong throughout the World Cup and will look to end the tournament on a high with a good showing against the class of the home nation; look for Crowley to ring changes in the second half of a game that the All Blacks will look to play at their trademark frenetic pace.
Players to Watch:
Alongside Colin Slade, for obvious reasons, the impact of Piri Weepu could prove to be key for New Zealand later in the tournament. Weepu has experience at first five but appears to be Henry’s first choice halfback; the controversial figure starts from the bench today but could come on in either position to give a clearer view into the minds of the Kiwi coaches given their latest crisis.
DTH Van der Merwe has been in outstanding form for Canada in the midfield, turning heads against each team he has played against. The centre gets his chance to prove his quality against world-class opposition today, lining up against the impeccable defence of Conrad Smith.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Victor Vito, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Brad Thorn, 19 Anthony Boric, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Isaia Toeava.
Canada: 15 Matt Evans, 14 Conor Trainor, 13 DTH Van Der Merwe, 12 Ryan Smith, 11 Phil Mackenzie, 10 Ander Monro, 9 Ed Fairhurst, 8 Aaron Carpenter, 7 Chauncey O’Toole, 6 Adam Kleeberger, 5 Jamie Cudmore, 4 Jebb Sinclair, 3 Jason Marshall, 2 Pat Riordan (c), 1 Hubert Buydens.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Hamilton, 17 Scott Franklin, 18 Andrew Tiedemann, 19 Tyler Hotson, 20 Nanyak Dala, 21 Sean White, 22 Nathan Hirayama.