Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Cruden's homework plan - keep improving

Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images
Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images

Aaron Cruden has homework to do for the All Blacks selectors.

He received it while with the Chiefs in South Africa, and unlike the four top Australian cricketers dropped from the national team for failing to do theirs, Cruden is putting a lot of thought into his assignment and insists it will be in on time.

It isn't taxing stuff, and all the current All Blacks will be given the assignment. It is mostly on how the players rate their early-season performances and how they plan to develop their games.

For Cruden, Dan Carter's back-up at first-five for the All Blacks but facing competition from other players with designs on the No 10 jersey, it will be a case of improving his consistency and taking more of a leading role.

The 24-year-old has begun solidly, although hindered by a groin injury which means he is yet to kick for goal in a competition game.

He knows there is plenty of improving to be done. With Highlander Colin Slade - Carter's previous understudy before a run of injuries - and Hurricane Beauden Barrett, waiting, there will be no room for slippage.

The first sustained contact Cruden and his fellow All Blacks will have with the national coaches will be at the first of two training camps in Mt Maunganui on May 19.

"I'm reasonably happy with it I suppose," Cruden said of his form. "I think I can contribute more around the paddock and I suppose as a first-five you always want things to go smoothly, so when things get a bit loose you take it on your own shoulders to try to rectify that."

Cruden, who started in all of the Chiefs' 18 matches last season and is perhaps even more central to the team's hopes this year in the absence of Sonny Bill Williams, is one of the competition's form first-fives.

His kicking variations in the close defeat by the Stormers in Cape Town reaped two tries, but a duffed grubber in front of his posts gave the opposition seven points.

He does not believe the ever-changing nature of the Chiefs' midfield is an issue. Andrew Horrell will tonight become the third second-five for the Chiefs this season when he takes the field against the Highlanders at Waikato Stadium - after Bundee Aki and Charlie Ngatai.

"It's a matter of finding that consistency. Rugby is a pretty simple game when you can get that go-forward ball and that's what we're striving for."

Chiefs v Highlanders
Hamilton, 7.35 tonight

Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Nick Crosswell, Sam Cane, Liam Messam (c), Brodie Retallick, Michael Fitzgerald, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu
Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Ben Afeaki, Romana Graham, Tanerau Latimer, August Pulu, Charlie Ngatai, Richard Kahui.

Highlanders: Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Jason Emery, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, Josh Bekhuis, Brad Thorn (c), Chris King, Liam Coltman, Tony Woodcock
Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Bronson Murray, Joe Wheeler, Tim Boys, Frae Wilson, Lima Sopoaga, Phil Burleigh.

- NZ Herald

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