All Blacks Rugby: Should Taylor or Slade Start at First Five-Eighth?

Jeff CheshireAnalyst IIAugust 21, 2013

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 20:  Colin Slade (R) and Tom Taylor (L) of the All Blacks during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at the Lower Hutt Recreation Ground on August 20, 2013 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Phil Walter/Getty Images

Either Tom Taylor or Colin Slade appears set to start for the All Blacks at first five-eighth in their second Bledisloe Cup Test against the Wallabies this weekend, as reported by Stuff.

This comes after injuries to Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett, leaving New Zealand having to examine their depth and call on their fourth and fifth string No. 10s.

The situation isn't entirely new for the All Blacks. They faced with the same scenario at the 2011 Rugby World Cup and were forced to call on their fourth-choice in the final after a series of injuries throughout the tournament.

So the alarm bells haven't quite started ringing. New Zealand got by on that occasion, and there is certainly more depth in the position now than there was two years ago.

So should Taylor or Slade get the nod to start? Both have strengths and weaknesses, and at the time of writing the coaching staff have kept their cards close to their chest.

Slade is more experienced, having had stints with the All Blacks in 2010 and 2011 when he was included in the World Cup squad. But he has not performed consistently in the black jersey and has only showed flashes of brilliance.

Injuries have played a big part. Slade is very much a confidence player and he simply has not had enough time on the field in recent years to get comfortable in his pivotal role.

When playing with confidence, he is an extremely dangerous runner, capable of taking the line on strongly and giving his midfield ball at the gain-line. His kicking game is very good off both feet, for distance and tactically.

In defence he is strong too. He is not quite in the class of Carter but he will not shy away from contact.

There is also the bonus of Slade having played outside Aaron Smith and inside Ma'a Nonu at the Highlanders, so forming new combinations would not be an issue.

Towards the end of the season Slade was a key player for the Highlanders and found a vein of form that had been missing for a number of years.

However, on an off-day Slade tends simply to shovel the ball on to his second five-eighth. He does not attack the line, he kicks inaccurately and he can be weak in defence.

If this Slade turns up, it would be an uphill battle for the All Blacks. If a confident Slade turns up they would be tough to stop. It comes down to whether the All Blacks' coaches want to take a chance.

The other option is the ever-improving Taylor, who has come on leaps and bounds over the past two seasons but has yet to make his All Blacks debut.

Taylor is solid in defence and distributes well. He is growing into a more dangerous runner which makes him a threat with ball in hand, rather than just tidy.

Perhaps his biggest attribute is goal kicking, and he is considered the best in New Zealand alongside Otago and Highlanders' Hayden Parker. His accuracy was outstanding in last year's ITM Cup and he was reliable kicking for the Crusaders in Carter's absence this year.

Taylor's lack of experience may worry some, but he is destined for greater things and is intelligent enough to cope with a faster game. 

The big difference is Taylor's consistency, particularly his goal kicking, which is why he should get the nod.

But Slade is a reasonable option too. The Wallabies are having their own problems in the position and either man would be warmly welcomed into their ranks.