Rugby: Cruden's return can aid erratic Chiefs

By Kris Shannon

Coach Dave Rennie hinted there would be a few personnel changes for the encounter with the Waratahs.
Coach Dave Rennie hinted there would be a few personnel changes for the encounter with the Waratahs.

Dave Rennie described the Chiefs as "a distant third" in their heavy defeat against the Hurricanes but there was one bright spot amid the gloom.

A healthy Aaron Cruden returned to duty during the second half of the 45-8 humbling and the first five-eighth will now be charged with a rescue mission to save his side's season.

Cruden will likely start when the Waratahs visit New Plymouth on Saturday, a match the Chiefs must win to remain in the top tier of the New Zealand conference before June's international break.

The defending champions currently sit fourth but, only two points behind the front-running Crusaders, they still hold their destiny in their own hands. Their final three matches are all-Kiwi affairs and positive results against the Highlanders (away) and Hurricanes (home) will aid the playoff push.

Cruden is sure to have his part to play in that. It's unlikely his presence in the run-on XV would have changed much about the hammering on Saturday night, considering how deficient the Chiefs were defensively, but Cruden is the steady hand the champs need in the home stretch.

Consistency will be key when the competition resumes - one quality the Chiefs have been lacking this season. Following one of their best performances (32-20 win over the Blues) with their worst, the Chiefs have strung together three straight victories only once in a rollercoaster campaign.

"Something's just not quite gelling," Cruden said. "We're going through patches - we're pretty good for a couple of weeks and then take a few steps backwards. We've got to try and find that consistency."

A regular run of games from Cruden will be an important step towards embarking on a winning run and, after missing six weeks with a broken thumb, the pivot feels ready to reclaim his starting spot.

The Hurricanes match arrived just too soon for him to pull on the No 10 jersey, with the All Blacks camp creating a short week of preparation and leaving Gareth Anscombe in the starting lineup. But Cruden is confident another stint away with the All Blacks won't prevent him from returning to his regular role next weekend.

"I was just glad I managed to get back out on the paddock," he said. "The thumb's feeling strong and I think I'll be better for the run.

"[My fitness] is not too bad. With the thumb injury I was still able to do a bit of running. I had about six or seven weeks off but I was still able to get a bit of fitness and conditioning into me.

"It would've been great to get a start this week but, being away with the All Blacks, it probably wasn't ideal. I know we're going to be away for a couple of days again but I'm really excited about the opportunity to hopefully get back in that 10 jersey next week."

Rennie, never one to shy away from alterations, hinted there would be a few personnel changes for the encounter with the Waratahs, and Cruden could be among them.

"We'll have a bit of a trawl through the footage - it's going to be tough work - but obviously we need to make some changes and apply a bit more pressure in other areas as well," Rennie said. "[Cruden] is certainly an option."

- APNZ

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