Who will fill Dan's boots?
by Tracey Nelson
18 Feb 2009
With Dan Carter suffering an archilles tendon tear while playing for Perpignan on his sabbatical, the All Blacks will be looking for a new 1st 5 for at least the first half of the international season – the Iveco Series against France and Italy in June, and the TriNations starting mid July. The 2009 Super 14 will take on a new edge as the various 1st 5s battle it out to see who can show the form and composure the All Black coaches will be looking for. So who are the candidates to fill the very large boots left by Carter’s absence?
THE BLUES (Tasesa Lavea, Jimmy Gopperth, Michael Hobbs).
Lavea rose to prominence a couple of years ago playing in a dominant Auckland side in the ANZC competition, and went on to further that form at Super 14 level for the Blues and more recently the Chiefs. Back with the Blues this year Lavea looks to be their preferred 1st 5 and started in this position for their first game against the Western Force. An elusive ball player, there are perhaps still the odd question marks over his delivery to players outside him, but he makes up for that with running skills and pace to burn, plus a very skillful boot when it comes to the cross field kick. Not recognised as a top goal kicker though.
Gopperth has shifted north from Wellington and will have his first season with the Blues this year. A reasonably consistent goal kicker, Gopperth nonetheless suffers from lack of consistency in his overall game. Some suggest that he is best suited to coming off the bench rather than starting, something he will be striving to rectify. While not noted as one of the top 1st 5s in the country, Gopperth still offers plenty on attack and is brave, if not always accurate, on defence.
Hobbs, another Wellington player who has ended up at the Blues from the draft, is not well known and until we see some game time from him at this level it’s hard to comment further. However, unless there is a run of bad injuries to others it would seem unlikely he is in contention at this stage.
Possible bolter: Toeava is not listed as a 1st 5 for the Blues, but does have the credentials to play in that position and has had the odd game there for both the Blues and Auckland. Might we see him there at some stage during this competition?
THE CHIEFS (Stephen Donald, Michael Delaney)
Donald has the inside running, having been named in the All Blacks in 2008 and having game time in a handful of test matches both during the TriNations and the end of year tour, as well as starting against Australia in the Hong Kong Bledisloe Cup test. As a player who has long struggled to get consistency in his game and dictate play on the field, he will be looking to solidify the form that got him his black jersey last year. One thing Donald does need to be aware of is his now-predictable little chip and chase, so some variation in that area would be welcomed. This season Donald needs to grab his opportunities with both hands, and prove that he has the mental stamina and vision to truly run a game without getting flustered.
Michael Delaney’s form for Bay of Plenty during the 2008 Air New Zealand Cup has been rewarded with a berth in the Chiefs’ squad. An electric runner with the ball in hand, Delaney is also an extremely proficient goal kicker. He has shown he is more than capable of directing a game at domestic level, so the next step for him is to prove himself at Super 14 level against international opposition.
THE HURRICANES (Willie Ripia, Daniel Kirkpatrick. Piri Weepu)
Ripia got his chances to show his wares towards the end of the 2008 Super 14, and he took them with both hands. He then backed this up with some exceptional form for Taranaki during the Air New Zealand Cup. Whether it be running, passing, or kicking, this boy has it all. But can he perform consistently at top level and take the right options? More importantly, will he get a chance to prove his worth with some starts for the Canes rather than coming off the bench?
Daniel Kirkpatrick was a member of the World Cup winning NZ U-20 side last year. While he shows plenty of promise, it is probably too early to be considering him for higher honours having only played a handful of domestic first class games and this being his first year of Super 14.
Piri Weepu has been selected as a halfback in the Canes’ squad, but with the likes of Jimmy Cowand and Brendon Leonard around he may well consider some time at 1st 5. Weepu is a strong player and has no hesitation in taking on the line, but there are question marks over his decision making. Does have a good goal kicking record.
THE CRUSADERS (Stephen Brett, Colin Slade)
Brett was heralded as the new Dan Carter two seasons ago when he appeared on the scene for Canterbury and the Crusaders, most notably in 2007 when the All Blacks were on their reconditioning programme for the first half of the Super 14. However, since then his star has faded slightly, partly due to injury and partly due to loss of form. While he can be mercurial on attack, Brett has been found out on defence on the inside channel so will need to work on this area of his game to regain not only his confidence but the confidence of the selectors.
Colin Slade made a meteoric rise during Canterbury’s Air New Zealand Cup season in 2008, going from being cover in the squad to first choice No 10. Such was his form that he kept Stephen Brett out of the position when he returned to the squad from injury. Slade has an uncanny knack to see a gap where there seemingly isn’t one, and so far has shown good instinct as to when to run or not. He has a good turn of pace for his size, and is a sound goal kicker. Defensively has no glaring defects. There is nothing startling about this 1st 5, but he performs the basics of the position well and doesn’t get bogged down when errors do crop up in his game. This season is a big test for him, stepping up another level to S14.
THE HIGHLANDERS (Daniel Bowden, Matt Berquist)
Bowden may not always set the world on fire with his goal kicking, but as a running 1st 5 he is quick of pace and has a good step to evade the defence. Whether his decision making under pressure can improve will be high on the list of “must have” criteria for his team. Will need to perform to keep Berquist on the bench.
Matt Berquist from Hawkes Bay is having his first season of S14 and moved to the Highlanders in the draft. A highly accurate goal kicker, Berquist is also a fine running 1st 5 and good ball distributor. He is also one of that rare breed of 1st 5 who can drop a goal. Question marks over his close-in defence, but should make the step up to Super rugby with relative ease provided his forward pack are performing.by