New Zealand flyhalf Daniel Carter has been ruled out of the World Cup after tearing a muscle in his groin at training sparking despair among the home fans at such a big loss.
Carter had been named captain for the All Blacks final pool game with Canada at Wellington Regional Stadium later on Sunday but had to withdraw from the team late on Saturday after sustaining the injury while practising his kicking at training.
"It has been confirmed he has a significant left groin injury. He has torn the adductor longus tendon completely," team doctor Deb Robinson told reporters. "That's obviously a severe injury and it will rule him out of the tournament."
Carter will travel to Auckland with the rest of the squad for further diagnosis but it was not yet clear if he required surgery, Robinson said, adding the "best guess" would be that Carter would be out for about 10-12 weeks.
Colin Slade, brought into the starting line-up for Carter for Sunday's match would now take over the role as the pivot for the rest of the All Blacks' campaign, coach Graham Henry said.
Manawatu flyhalf Aaron Cruden has joined the squad.
The loss of Carter is a massive blow to New Zealand's World Cup chances and comes after news that captain Richie McCaw, the only specialist openside flanker in the team, has been battling a nagging foot injury that forced him out of the Canada match.
The pair were considered integral to New Zealand's chances of ending a 24-year World Cup hoodoo, with Carter finding some of his best form as he challenged defensive lines with his running, distribution and kicking skills.
New Zealand have not won the Webb Ellis trophy since the initial tournament in 1987, despite entering every World Cup since as hot favourites to claim the title.
"I think it’s pretty obvious this is a major (blow) and it's tragic for the young guy concerned," Henry said when asked if his worst World Cup nightmares had been confirmed.
"The group is shattered with this news but also a resilient group of people who are focused to doing this job right ... we just need to show strength."
More than 200 people had gathered outside the team hotel on Sunday in central Wellington to catch a glimpse of the players as they made final preparations for their Pool A clash.
"Oh dear," one fan said when told of Carter's exit. "Oh dear," he repeated as he shuffled his feet and looked away.
Another said she "could cry" when news spread amongst the supporters, while other faces dropped noticeably from smiles to downcast looks as the realisation set in that the 29-year-old would play no further part in the global showcase.
Slade has produced mixed performances in his appearances to date and fans were concerned his lack of test experience was a gamble by the coaching staff heading into the tournament, though Henry said he trusted the 23-year-old to step up.
"He hasn't played a lot of footy but he has got a lot of ability and we have a lot of belief in him," Henry said.
"It's a big game for him this afternoon (against Canada) but in his last game (versus Japan) he got better as the game went on and showed some good touches. He has got a good opportunity today.
"The decisions about the future at 10 will look after themselves... and Colin is the No 1 at the moment."