Carter’s absence casts black cloud over the Rugby World Cup

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Carter’s absence casts black cloud over the Rugby World Cup

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - A long, dark cloud descended over New Zealand on Sunday after it emerged that Dan Carter had been ruled out of the Rugby World Cup.

Talk of Cup curses started immediately after All Blacks coach Graham Henry told a news conference that Carter, his superstar flyhalf, would take no further part in the tournament because of a serious groin injury sustained during kicking practice late Saturday.

Carter has scored an international record 1,250 test points and is the best No. 10 in world rugby. The lack of an understudy for the 29-year-old pivot has long been seen as the Achilles’ heel of the All Blacks’ World Cup campaign.

The worst fears of a New Zealand public desperate to end a World Cup drought have been realized.

It completely overshadowed New Zealand’s 12-try, 79-15 win over Canada later Sunday, when Colin Slade failed to seize his moment hours after becoming the All Blacks first-choice No. 10 for the pressured knockout rounds.

The 23-year-old Slade started for only the fourth time in his nine-test career and had a reasonable game directing the backline for the first 50 minutes but was off-target with the boot. Piri Weepu had a more constructive game when he went on as No. 10.

All Blacks fans, still numbed by the loss of Carter, may not yet be convinced of Slade’s credentials for the high-pressure knockout rounds, but Henry expressed full confidence.

“Going forward .?.?. well, Colin Slade’s the boy,’’ Henry said. “He played pretty well for a large part of the game today. He just needs more football so the more times we can get him out there the better he’s going to be.”

New Zealand will meet 2007 semifinalist Argentina in the quarterfinals after the Pumas overcame a 7-5 halftime deficit to beat a determined Georgia lineup in the first of Sunday’s four matches. The Pumas finished second in Pool B behind unbeaten England.

Wales thrashed Fiji 66-0 to finish second behind South Africa in Pool D and advance to the quarterfinals, where they’ll meet either Ireland or Australia.

“It’s something we’ve worked very hard for the last four years, and it’s a great feeling we’ve got to the quarters now,’’ Wales captain Sam Warburton said. “We said we wanted to be ruthless from minute one to 80 and we put in a good performance throughout.’’

Ireland was playing Italy in the last of the group matches Sunday night at Dunedin.

New Zealand was already assured of a quarterfinal spot ahead of its last match and had no real difficulty against the Canadians despite the absence of Carter.

“It’s a tragic situation for a highly talented young sportsman,’’ Henry said. “This was his scene really; a World Cup in New Zealand and it was going to be his big occasion.’’

The injury occurred only hours after Carter had been asked to captain New Zealand for the first time in his 84-test career in the absence of Richie McCaw, who was ruled out of Sunday’s match against Canada with the recurrence of a foot injury.

Henry also has to decide whether to go with Slade at No. 10, play Weepu out of his preferred scrumhalf position or to chance it with 22-year-old Aaron Cruden, who has gone on as a replacement in five of his six test matches to date, and was drafted into the 30-man squad.

The 100-test coach said the All Blacks needed to “show strength,’’ both to support Carter and to move on in the tournament in his absence.

“The group is obviously very shattered with this news, but they are also a very resilient group of people focussed on doing this job right,’’ Henry said. “We need to move on as well.”

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