NEWS
10/01/2011 04:23 EDT | Updated 11/30/2011 05:12 EST

Australia, France pay a price for reaching World Cup quarterfinals

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - On any normal day, Ireland beating Italy to top a World Cup group containing Australia would spark celebrations across New Zealand.

As soon as All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter was ruled out of the World Cup with a tournament-ending groin injury, though, Sunday was always going to be gloomy in the host nation.

The last three quarterfinal spots were decided across the last four pool matches, with a 36-6 win over Italy setting the Irish on course for a knockout clash against Wales, which thrashed Fiji 66-0.

Argentina fended off a plucky Georgia 25-7 to set up a quarterfinal against New Zealand in the opening match of the day.

Given it was only hours after the Carter announcement, the main domestic interest in New Zealand's 12-try, 79-15 thrashing of Canada was on how Colin Slade performed at flyhalf.

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

All Blacks fans may not yet be convinced of Slade's credentials for the high-pressure knockout rounds but coach Graham 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."

Slade said after the match that "it's been a tough 24 hours."

The pessimistic mood of the general public wasn't helped when the New Zealand Warriors lost in the final of Australia's National Rugby League competition to the Manly Sea Eagles in Sydney on Sunday night.

But Ireland's win in Pool C about 40 minutes later at least gave them a slight boost, if only because it means archrival Australia has a tougher road to the World Cup final.

The Irish finished on top of a pool for the first time ever at the World Cup, forcing second place Australia — the reigning Tri-Nations champion — into a knockout against Pool D winner and defending World Cup champion South Africa. The winner of that will likely have to play New Zealand in the semifinals.

In an evenly balanced knockout round, all the northern hemisphere teams are on side and all the southern hemisphere teams on the other.

England, the 2003 champion and runner-up in '07, overcame Scotland on Saturday night and will next meet a French team in disarray after a disastrous loss to Tonga.

While the French no doubt had the blues, a long dark cloud descended over New Zealand and talk of Cup curses started immediately after Henry told a mid-morning news conference that Carter was sidelined from the injury sustained during kicking practice late Saturday.

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 against Canada but was off-target with the boot. Piri Weepu had a more constructive game when he went on as No. 10.

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 the Canada match with the recurrence of a foot injury.

Henry, now a 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. We have been dealt the cards we have got and it is very important that we play them superbly."

The All Blacks aren't the only squad with injury concerns, although even Frans Steyn's tournament-ending shoulder injury isn't as disruptive for the Springboks as Carter's absence is for New Zealand.

South Africa drafted in Zane Kirchner on Sunday to replace Steyn, and he'll join up with the Springboks in Wellington this week.

After losing Drew Mitchell to a hamstring strain in a win over Russia on Saturday, the Australians called in winger Lachie Turner and backrower Matt Hodgson to reinforce their injury-plagued Cup squad on Sunday.

While most of the bigger teams come to terms with physical bumps and pain, France has to come to terms with badly bruised egos. But while coach Marc Lievremont cooncedes there's some turmoil in the squad following the "shame" of a loss to Tonga, he's confident they can regroup to beat England.

"I believe in the men, in a group who hopefully know how to pick themselves up," he said. "I have got experienced and talented players. But maybe not as talented as I thought."