Former All Black first-five Grant Fox has backed Colin Slade to come good this Rugby World Cup, despite a shaky start against Japan on Friday.
Slade landed just one from four kicks early on against the Cherry Blossoms to reignite fears that the All Blacks still lack a dependable back-up to Dan Carter. But Fox, speaking to Radio Sport, suggested Slade will improve and could even be useful cover for other positions.
"He started wonky with the goal kicking and there were a couple of dropsies, but in between times he was solid enough. I still don't fancy the idea of Piri Weepu playing in the 10 position for a long period of the game. I'm still a great believer in [Weepu's] talent as a rugby player and his ability to do a cameo at first five-eight, but for the longer haul, perhaps not.
"When Slade went to fullback against Japan, maybe they were having a look at that option too for injury cover. Slade is not just in there necessarily as an out-and-out 10."
Slade eventually finished the game with 23 points (nine conversions, one try). Fox said he worked himself back into the game and was part of a "pretty solid All Black performance."
"He'll be better for the run, let's remember this guy hasn't had a whole lot of rugby this year. He had a rough time in Port Elizabeth and started a bit roughly in Hamilton, but got better as the game went on."
He admitted his surprised at seeing Sonny Bill Williams appearing on the wing in that game. Williams scored two tries to underline his value to the All Blacks selectors.
"It appears to me that more and more [the coaches] are looking at saying he has to be part of the 22. He's a real impact guy. You go back to the side they picked against the Wallabies, he wasn't on the bench. It was all about the flexibility of cover. Isaia was the guy they were looking to. Now, with Williams going to the wing, maybe it's a suggestion that he really has to be there.
"He's a great attacker, a great ball carrier. And wings now don't just sit on the wing, they get involved in other parts of the field. If Sonny Bill got that opportunity, there is no doubt he wouldn't just get locked out near a touchline, he'd go looking for work."
- Herald Online