New Zealand's nightmare comes true
Auckland, North Island
Having gone to bed in a state of panic - or in the case of England and Scotland supporters, a state of inebriation - New Zealand awoke on Sunday to the sporting news it had been dreading: Dan Carter's World Cup was over.
This was the doomsday scenario for home fans, the unspoken nightmare that's been haunting them for the past four years.
As soon as the photo of a stricken Carter, prone in pain on the training pitch, had circulated on television channels and websites late on Saturday, the shakes had set in. When a statement from All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson confirmed the worst, the mourning began.
"It's bloody awful, really," lamented ex All Blacks skipper Todd Blackadder.
"God that's bad news," bemoaned former Kiwi coach and captain Sir Fred Allen.
Talisman, pivot, totem, golden boy; Carter is all of these to the All Blacks team, and a lot more besides.
This World Cup was supposed to be his coronation, his string-pulling and goal-kicking at fly-half guiding a nation to its sporting destiny, the perfect 10 to guide his team to World Cup glory on home soil.
Carter is considered by many observers to be the most complete fly-half in rugby union. Pic: Getty.
But sport seldom has time for neat plotlines and easy poetry. Most Kiwis had never heard of the left adductor longus tendon, let alone known that it can tear when you're doing something as simple as kicking a few practice goals. They do now.
Auckland appeared to be in a state of shock, the streets like a ghost-town, although to be fair it often looks like that on a Sunday.
Elsewhere it was just as bad. A friend flying down to Dunedin for the Ireland v Italy game reported that the woman sitting next to him had burst into tears on hearing the news.
It should feel like an over-reaction. But the half-back slots are the one area that the mighty All Blacks do not have world-class strength in depth.
Carter and his stand-in, 23-year-old Colin Slade, are both former pupils at Christchurch Boys' High School. The immediate similarities end there.
One has 85 caps and 1,250 Test points, more than any other player in history. The other began Sunday with eight and 49.
"It would have to affect the All Blacks' chances of winning the tournament," says Sir Fred, "because Carter's the best first-five we've ever had, and he's class all the way.
"They've only got to lose somebody like Richie McCaw, too, then we'll really start to sweat.''
McCaw sat out Sunday afternoon's game against Canada too, although he is expected to be fit for next weekend's quarter-final against Argentina.
For Slade the match represented an instant chance to convince the doubters that Carter might not be missed. By the time he limped off after an hour the jury was probably still out.
His first clearing kick was charged down to give Canada the chance to take an early shock lead. He then made amends with a neat sniping break and long pass to put Zac Guildford away for their side's first try, but then had another long pass intercepted and flung another at his team-mate's bootlaces to force a needless knock-on.
With the boot too he struggled, missing a succession of conversions from either side, although once again the suspicion remains that this World Cup ball is a nightmare for place-kickers to control.
Despite his travails, however, the All Blacks still prospered, their 12 tries and 79-15 victory evidence that this is a team with talent in abundance.
Guildford ran in four tries alone while Sonny Bill Williams again looked a world-beater at centre, yet neither man is guaranteed a starting-berth in the quarters. The return of their player of the year Kieran Read at eight is also a significant boost, just as the quality of the opposition moves up a notch.
"The way the All Blacks play is bigger than one player," says Argentina captain Felipe Contepomi. "Carter is the best in the world, but they still have a lot to offer without him."
Neither is the gauche Slade the only option at 10. Highlanders' Aaron Cruden, called into the squad on Sunday, is a fine organiser and runner, even if his kicking skills leave a little to be desired, while scrum-half Piri Weepu can also slot in at fly-half, his own kicking game robust and his footwork neat.
"For the sake of this team and this country we've just got to forge ahead anyway," believes Blackadder, now Carter's coach at Crusaders.
"This is going to sound really terrible and uncaring, but they've just got to move on. I think there's no point in looking back now.
"Carter is world class, but they no longer have him in the team - so they've got to store all their faith and belief into Slade and Cruden."
For the tournament as a whole the effect of Carter's absence is intriguing.
Former World Cup winner Michael Lynagh is not alone in thinking the remaining three weeks may be poorer for his stellar absence. But it might also make the final shakedown a whole lot more interesting.
Of the nations left in the draw, only the All Blacks had looked indomitable. Carter's injury robs them of that air, not only because of his physical absence from the pitch but also for the self-doubt that may now start to worm away on team and country's collective consciousness.
This weekend South Africa have also lost the excellent Frans Steyn to injury, while the Wallabies have seen Drew Mitchell added to their lengthening casualty list.
The competition was already opening up in what we've been calling the northern hemisphere side of the draw. Carter's injury might just open doors in the other half of the draw.
The All Blacks remain World Cup favourites. But with their star man gone, so have the certainties of the first four weeks.