After another injury-wrecked year, Colin Slade has
rejoined a bulging All Black five-eighths battle.
The 25-year-old was tucked in behind Daniel Carter before he
tore groin muscles at the World Cup and then broke his ankle
early into last year's Super 15 series.
As he went through more exhaustive rehab, Slade watched Aaron
Cruden, then Beauden Barrett and Tom Taylor nose in behind
Carter on the preferred five-eighths list.
Breaking back into that group is on Slade's radar but well in
the distance as he first contemplates the Highlanders'
"I won't really know how I am until I get back into the thick
of it," he said at yesterday's Super 15 launch.
"I don't think it will hold me back too much, but speaking to
others, they say it takes two or three games. That is the
Slade has been concentrating on getting plenty of kilometres
into his legs, working on regaining full strength on his left
peg and on his skills.
"There are great young kids coming into the game, but I would
go mad if I worried about that," he said.
"I have not tortured myself. I will get my chance when I get
out there, and that is what is motivating me.
"It can be daunting if they raise the bar but it means I have
to rise to that challenge.
"A lot of guys might have lost belief in my ability but I
certainly haven't and I am ready to get out there and prove a
point that I can come back from this."
Slade has stalled at 10 tests, Cruden has now played 20 and
Barrett five. Taylor was the intriguing replacement pick in
the illness-ravaged last week in Britain.
Seven games but just two full matches for the Highlanders in
the past two years is not a substantial job application sheet
for the All Blacks.
But the Highlanders five-eighths is not in a hurry.
He wants to start when he is ready and when coach Jamie
Joseph wants him.
"I was at rock bottom but now I want to prove I am a Super
rugby player again and then see what happens after that. It
is all about small steps," said Slade.
Hurricanes No 8 Victor Vito has been rehabbing a medial knee
ligament in his off-season and rates himself good to go.
Losing Cory Jane to injury was a huge blow and there was no
way the Canes would catch out any opponents this season.
"Everyone knows who we are and there will be no buttoning
off. Any underdog tag has worn off and we need to learn to
build leads rather than play catchup."
The arrival of Ben Franks had bumped up the scrum content and
general purpose about the pack.
- Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald