Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Cruden's injury painful for Chiefs

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Aaron Cruden's injury will harm the Chiefs more than the All Blacks.

He has been an ironman for the Super 15 champions, appearing in all 42 games in the past three seasons until that run hit a weekend road block in Bloemfontein when he fractured his left thumb.

The verdict was an eight-week layoff with eight rounds of the Super 15 until the June test series with England.

The Chiefs should use Gareth Anscombe at five-eighths in what will be an interesting assessment for those who were puzzled by or approved his rejection from the Blues. If he is injured then Andrew Horrell, maybe Mils Muliaina or Ihaia West could be tried.

Cruden has been a crucial component for the Chiefs in their two championship campaigns and while the team have run a bit ragged abroad, Cruden has been a fail-proof champion and key decision-maker.

He was banking more and more reliable minutes as he headed towards his 30th test start against England.

His tactical guidance, running, defence, offloading and kicking were very consistent.

Now the Chiefs have to rejig their ideas while they are still without the more physical presence of Charlie Ngatai or Robbie Fruean to call on in midfield. The game plans they have had in place all season will not alter, while Anscombe will have to change his thinking if he makes the switch.

He has been used mostly at fullback or on the wing where his pace, anticipation and strong kicking game have been productive. He looks more suited to that role where he gets more time on the ball and has less heat on his tackling than in the inside channels.

The June test series was supposed to be a time for Cruden to get another run at five-eighths without Carter's shadow hovering nearby. It may still happen but the timeframe is tight.

The All Blacks can cope without a recuperating Carter or even Cruden. In poorer times that double blow would have ripped out the nation's rugby confidence but these days the All Blacks have rich five-eighths resources.

Beauden Barrett has not started many of his 16 tests but his range of talents is compelling and his game management is also on the rise as he gets regular starts with the Hurricanes.

Then there are men like Tom Taylor and Colin Slade who may have brought mixed work to the Crusaders' programme so far but have not been Robinson Crusoe in that team. They have played well at five-eighths for the All Blacks and understand the pressure and tactics around rugby at that level.

It will be tough for Cruden if he is not fit for the June test series but he has shown incredible resilience already to beat far more serious health problems.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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