Rugby: Barrett and Cruden battle on hold

By Daniel Richardson

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

So much for a shootout. With Dan Carter on holiday, the rugby public could have been treated to a battle between the next best first-fives in the country tomorrow night.

Chiefs pivot Aaron Cruden already has one arm through a sleeve of the All Blacks No 10 jersey for next month's test series against England but Hurricanes first-five Beauden Barrett is Super Rugby's leading points-scorer in 2014.

Cruden rarely put a foot wrong for the All Blacks last year when Carter was struck down by injury but is working his way back from time on the sidelines with a thumb complaint.

As entertaining as it may have been to see Cruden and Barrett go one-on-one when the Hurricanes host the Chiefs at Westpac Stadium tomorrow, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has named Cruden on the bench.

Rennie has left stand-in pivot Gareth Anscombe in charge for the week and it's hard to question Rennie's wisdom given he has coached the Chiefs to back-to-back titles in the past two years.

"You can understand it," Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett said. "As far as I know Azza's just started catching a ball this week so I've got no idea where he is. But I'm sure Rens and his team have got their reasons."

Barrett and Anscombe are well-acquainted having spent time together when they won a world championship with the New Zealand under-20s in 2011.

Tomorrow's game shapes as vital for the Hurricanes who need to win to keep their season alive and Barrett said he wasn't worried about getting one over Cruden.

"As players we don't look at it like that," the 22-year-old said. "It's another game. We are looking to put in a good performance. You don't get too caught up with head-to-head things like that."

Barrett was in doubt for tomorrow's game after he took a knock to his hip following a decent hit from Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman during last Friday's 18-16 defeat to Jamie Joseph's side but has come through the week in good spirits.

Coltman and Barrett know each other well after they spent a season together in the first XV at Francis Douglas Memorial College in New Plymouth when Barrett was a year 11 and Coltman was two years his senior.

"No hard feelings," Barrett said. "It was just a good tackle."

The Hurricanes will also welcome back hooker Dane Coles after he missed last week's outing with a sore back, which he tweaked during a weights session while the side was in Melbourne a fortnight ago.

"He's fizzing to get going," Hammett said.

Reserve rake Motu Matu'u is out with injury tomorrow after taking a battering against the Highlanders, leaving Ash Dixon with a chance to sit on the bench again for the Hurricanes.

Tackle-busting second-five Alapati Leiua also comes back in to the side after being dropped to the reserves for the game against the Highlanders as Tim Bateman started in his place but didn't offer the desired impact.

- APNZ

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