Piri Weepu - the saviour of the nation

Piri Weepu answers a question during a press conference in Auckland today.  (AP Photo/Ross Land)
Piri Weepu answers a question during a press conference in Auckland today. (AP Photo/Ross Land)
Piri Weepu has been anointed the saviour of the nation.

He's apparently second behind John Key in the preferred Prime Minister's stakes - a Piri Weepu for Prime Minister Facebook page has already been created - and he's even been touted as someone to solve the Tauranga oil crisis.

Variations of viral emails have circulated with him saying: "Chill out, I've got this'' and "Do I need to do everything around here?''

Most All Blacks fans, however, simply hope he can do one thing - help New Zealand to the World Cup final.

Weepu has become the centre of the public's adulation following his man-of-the-match performance against Argentina last weekend. He's seen as critical to New Zealand's success, especially following the loss of Dan Carter to injury, and has taken on more responsibility to lead the team.

Weepu seems barely affected by the adulation. He sauntered into a packed media conference this morning with music still blaring into his oversized headphones and took his seat in the centre of the top table. It might have been his way of blocking it all out but his team-mates betrayed his casual demeanour.

"He loves it,'' wing Cory Jane quipped. "The more people who talk about him, the more he plays well.''

It has actually been a difficult week for Weepu.

Moments after trudging off Eden Park last Sunday night with the man-of-the-match award, he was told his grandfather had died. He travelled to Wainuiomata for Tuesday's funeral and has returned for the biggest game of his rugby career.

"It was pretty tough at the beginning, especially coming off the field on Sunday and seeing that my father was trying to get hold of me,'' Weepu said. "He broke the news. It was pretty tough. But I'm back in camp and I've got the support I need from the boys to help me get through this week and hopefully put in a good effort on Sunday.

"I wouldn't say [my grandfather] will be on my mind. I know he will definitely be watching down on me. I went home on Tuesday morning and was told by all my family that they are very proud of me and he will definitely be watching down on me in Sunday.''

All Blacks coach Graham Henry has no doubt Weepu will be in the right frame of mind to play Australia on Sunday.

"He's very tight with his family,'' Henry said. "His whanau is hugely important to him. His grandfather passing on is a major but he will play for him, I think.

"He's always been a quality player. He's always had time and loved the big occasion. If you watch him play, he seems to have a lot more time than most out there. That just shows his quality. Now that Daniel is not playing, there's more responsibility on [number] nine to navigate the ship and take over more of the game, which he doesn't mind doing.''

It means less responsibility on the inexperienced shoulders of Aaron Cruden.

The 22-year-old first five-eighths has made just one start in his seven tests and it was an inauspicious one - the 23-22 victory over Australia in Sydney last year. It was such a poor display he wasn't taken on last year's end-of-year tour and was only called back into the All Blacks squad because of the injury to Carter.

"He's 15 months older and is a lot more experienced and that's important,'' Henry said. "You learn from those experiences. That was probably his first big test match. Very seldom are people the finished product in their first outing and you get better with age. He will get better. He will be a very good footballer as time goes on. He's a very good footballer now.''

- Michael Brown

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