Rugby: Cruden on bench for Chiefs but likely to be starter in AB tests

By Kris Shannon

Aaron Cruden. Photo / Getty Images
Aaron Cruden. Photo / Getty Images

Aaron Cruden is still a likely starter in the All Blacks' series against England despite being named on the bench in his return for the Chiefs.

The first five-eighths has been sidelined since breaking his thumb last month and, after a six-week recovery period elapsed during the Chiefs' bye week, he will be among the reserves against the Hurricanes tomorrow.

Cruden caught and passed for the first time since his injury while away at All Blacks training camp in Christchurch, travelling back to Hamilton to resume Super Rugby duties on Wednesday. The Chiefs coaches deemed the short week insufficient preparation to reclaim the No 10 jersey at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, giving understudy Gareth Anscombe another turn in the starting role.

But Cruden is set to enjoy some game time against the Hurricanes and, all going well, will likely start in the following week's meeting with the Waratahs in New Plymouth.

That time frame will see the 25-year-old free to assume the first-five role against England, holding off the challenge of Beauden Barrett while first choice Dan Carter remains on sabbatical.

"The decision was made earlier in the week when we looked at how much time it was going to take to get Aaron back after his time away with the All Blacks," said Chiefs assistant coach Tom Coventry. "He probably needed a full week with us, so we decided it was prudent to leave Gareth in his position.

"Aaron's an All Black and he's coming into a big series, so he'll probably want to get a bit of footy under his belt. We're not going to premeditate too much but it's likely that Aaron will get to start in the next couple of games."

While resting Cruden should pay off for both country and franchise when the competition resumes in July, the personnel call is also a sign of the esteem in which the Chiefs' brains trust holds Anscombe.

The former Blues man has improved with every minute while Cruden was crocked and he had his best game at first-five against his old team before the bye. Coventry said the Chiefs rewarded that performance at an internal awards session this week and that backing extended to leaving Anscombe in place to battle Barrett tomorrow night.

"Gareth's been a big part of us in getting out of a little bit of a trough that we've been in. We've come a long way and Gareth's been an instrumental part in us playing well.

"We've got 100 per cent confidence in him doing the role and we're fortunate that we've got two quality first five-eighths in the squad."

Cruden coming back into the 22 arrived at the same time as another couple of pieces of positive injury news. Wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma returns to the starting XV at the expense of James Lowe, while a fit-again Charlie Ngatai will start at centre. Tim Nanai-Williams shifts to fullback in place of Tom Marshall.

"It was good today at training," Coventry said of the boost in numbers.

"We had a lot more faces that we could rotate and get people onto the field in different positions.

"Some of the trainers and assistant coaches have been running around in different positions in the middle of the year, but we've just about got everyone back on board."

- APNZ

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