Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Cruden brings sting to test

Aaron Cruden returns to the All Blacks starting line-up tonight because of Daniel Carter's strained calf. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Aaron Cruden returns to the All Blacks starting line-up tonight because of Daniel Carter's strained calf. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Noises grow that Aaron Cruden would be a regular test five-eighths anywhere outside New Zealand.

It's hard to see the Wallabies disputing that call, although the Springboks with Johan Goosen rising to challenge Morne Steyn and the Pumas with Juan Martin Hernandez would not concur.

Hernandez was a champion at the 2007 World Cup but has been injured so much since it has been hard to get a true line on his work.

Goosen is a great prospect but untried and Steyn is a steady player and excellent goalkicker.

Those discussions aside, it is hard to shut out the mesmeric 24 minutes of action we saw from Cruden the last time he started a test.

That was in June against Ireland before he limped away with an inflamed Achilles tendon.

He returns to start tonight after Daniel Carter's calf strain and there has been little public anxiety.

Certainly nothing like the anguish which enveloped the country when Carter went down and out of the World Cup last year.

Cruden has had a handful of test replacement minutes since the Super 15 final early last month. His time has been spent riding the pine and training hard.

He has been in test mode all week and while some think the Pumas' confidence will lift because of Carter's exit, others believe Cruden will bring more sting.

That will be the case if he gets enough possession. His running game and offloads will provoke more head scratching from the Pumas than Carter's more measured approach.

"With Dan on light duties it was good for me to get in there and run the cutter with a bit more time in the saddle," Cruden said this week at training.

"That's what you want as a player and it was great to be out there trying to boss the boys around.

"The good thing with this team is we are all told to prepare to play. Everyone needs to know the game plan, everyone needs to know what relates to them."

Cruden showed throughout the Super 15, particularly in the playoffs, the growing maturity in his game and the danger he poses.

His game sense and tempo is very composed and his punting has got more power.

He finds gaps where they shouldn't be and delivers offloads any circus contortionist would admire.

Many of those this season were made to Sonny Bill Williams but with his exit to Japan, Ma'a Nonu will need to have his total vision glasses on in support tonight.

Nonu could not find his tempo at centre but with his reinstatement to his favoured All Blacks role, he should bring more menace as a decoy or ball-carrier.

Cruden's passion for attacking the line will demand different lines of support from his teammates and some anticipation the five-eighths will offload even when he looks netted.

If the five-eighths does give it a crack the Pumas' defence will have to squeeze in tighter, offering chances of All Blacks phase play width with quick recycled ball.

These are the fascinating scenarios which will be occupying the thoughts of both teams as they edge towards kickoff.

Last year, the capital was wallowing in distress and uncertainty after Carter was invalided out of the World Cup.

Now there is curiosity and excitement about his deputy.

- NZ Herald

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