Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Cruden grabs the baton to take on role as conductor

Chiefs first-five may be world No2 as he becomes more commanding and in control.

Aaron Cruden slotted into Daniel Carter's role and steered the ship with consummate ease. Photo / Getty Images
Aaron Cruden slotted into Daniel Carter's role and steered the ship with consummate ease. Photo / Getty Images

They are a greedy bunch these All Blacks - not content to have the best first-five in world rugby, they may in Aaron Cruden also have the second best.

The prospect of the Chiefs' first five-eighths being No2 in the world is at least worth discussion, not quite the random and baseless claim it may have been earlier this year.

Dropped into the All Blacks starting team late in Cardiff following Daniel Carter's sudden withdrawal, Cruden provided much the same portfolio as the great man.

It was, probably, Cruden's coming of age performance: the best test he has produced in eight starts.

His 24-minute cameo against Ireland in Hamilton in June was memorable, but his work in Wales ticked a lot more boxes and was able to allay doubts about his overall tactical command and ability to kick, direct and generally impose himself.

Poor old Rhys Priestland in the Welsh No10 jersey must have been shattered - it couldn't have been much for him to see the All Blacks dig into their kit bag, pull out Cruden and then discover he's quite a bit better.

But Cruden was better - more commanding, more in control, more able to channel the flow rather than let the game wash over him, much as it did Priestland.

A few hours earlier down the M4 at Twickenham, Toby Flood and Owen Farrell had been equally content to be shaped rather than shapers in England's defeat to South Africa and no doubt of the first fives on show throughout a big weekend of rugby, Cruden was the best.

"He was outstanding," effused All Black coach Steve Hansen. "I thought he drove us around the park for those 60 minutes really well. His kicking game ... a couple of years ago he didn't have a kicking game, and today he was pin-point and his goal-kicking ... you can't ask any more than that.

"Here is a guy who was just dropped in on Thursday so here is a guy who has got to be proud of the way he prepared because you don't get performances like that unless you are preparing to play the whole time."

It will be a wait-and-see scenario as to whether Cruden plays this week in London - Carter rated no more than 50/50 to have recovered from his damaged calf.

And should Cruden start, it will be the perfect opportunity for him to tick another important box - consistency.

Cruden's performance in Cardiff is confirmation that he has the ability to play the director role: to kick and drive his side into all the right areas.

Now that he's shown that once - provided tangible evidence that type of rugby is not beyond him - he'll be asked to back it up, to make that his bench-mark and deliver again.

A few years ago both the actual level of performance and consistency of any sort were beyond him, but he believes he is a different person now with a better and sustainable mental approach.

"When I first made the team a few years ago I focused more on it being a big step up and didn't really get out there and play," says Cruden. "I didn't really enjoy the occasion, I was more worried about making mistakes.

"But in the last couple of years I have just tried to go out there and play my natural game and enjoy my footy and be really clear in my role."

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 22 Aug 2014 22:33:59 Processing Time: 528ms