All Blacks: Kicker undecided, says Henry

By Alastair Bull

Aaron Cruden will start for the All Blacks against Australia on September 11. Photo / Getty Images
Aaron Cruden will start for the All Blacks against Australia on September 11. Photo / Getty Images

Aaron Cruden will definitely start for the All Blacks in the final Tri-Nations rugby test against Australia, but the selectors have yet to decide who will be the goalkicker.

The All Blacks today confirmed Canterbury first five-eighth Colin Slade as the replacement for the injured Dan Carter in the only change to the 26-man squad for the test in Sydney on September 11.

Coach Graham Henry today said that Cruden would definitely start against Australia, raising questions surrounding the goalkicking duties.

Cruden, 21, has made five appearances off the reserves bench for New Zealand this season and takes the goalkicks for Manawatu in the national provincial championship, but it may be asking too much for such an inexperienced player to assume those duties at test level.

Henry said the decision on goalkicking would be made when the team selection was being considered next week, but the selectors had alternatives.

"We could play (halfback) Piri Weepu and he could goalkick. He's a class goalkicker," Henry said.

"Aaron's improved his goalkicking, which we saw in the weekend for Manawatu, and Israel Dagg can kick goals as well.

"We haven't picked the 15, we haven't discussed it yet."

Henry said he thought Cruden played with authority for Manawatu against Hawke's Bay last weekend and would contribute strongly to the All Blacks.

He said Carter's injury might be a blessing in that it allowed Cruden to get a start against strong opposition.

"In hindsight we probably should have played him against Wales in Hamilton (in June) in that second test, but we went through a few negative times last year and we didn't want to risk anything," Henry said.

"This is a great opportunity for him. It's a big test match played away from home in Sydney. It's always been a difficult place for us to play ... so the team's going to be under pressure and it's a good challenge for him."

Henry said Slade was chosen as back-up for Cruden ahead of candidates such as Canterbury teammate Stephen Brett and North Harbour's Luke McAlister because he was the form first five-eighth at provincial level.

"Colin Slade I thought was probably the best player on the field against Auckland on Saturday, and he's been playing very well."

The versatile Slade was drafted into the All Blacks squad as injury cover last year and has been a regular starter for the Crusaders in a variety of positions over the past two seasons.

He is likely to be named on the reserves bench for the test.

Henry has stayed true to the core of his team who are unbeaten this year, including five-from-five Tri-Nations wins to seal that competition a month before its completion.

Australia have won one from four Tri-Nations tests and face South Africa in Bloemfontein this weekend before returning home for the finale.

The All Blacks gather in Auckland on Sunday and cross the Tasman that day.

New Zealand squad: Mils Muliaina, Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Joe Rokocoko, Rene Ranger, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Benson Stanley, Aaron Cruden, Colin Slade, Jimmy Cowan, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Victor Vito, Brad Thorn, Tom Donnelly, Sam Whitelock, Anthony Boric, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, John Afoa, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Corey Flynn

- NZPA

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