All Blacks: Cruden and Kaino out to hold positions

By Kris Shannon

Aaron Cruden and Jerome Kaino have overcome differing doubts to be selected in the run-on XV for the first test against England. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Aaron Cruden and Jerome Kaino have overcome differing doubts to be selected in the run-on XV for the first test against England. Photo / Brett Phibbs

One is back to his cheeky self while the other's like a caged animal - a combination that should make the All Blacks' axis a real strength on Saturday night.

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Both Aaron Cruden and Jerome Kaino have overcome differing doubts to be selected in the run-on XV for the first test against England, with Steve Hansen this morning naming a fairly predictable lineup for the encounter at Eden Park.

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Cruden shook off both concerns of rust after a long lay-off and the fierce challenge of the in-form Beauden Barrett, with Hansen trusting his incumbent to direct the All Blacks' attack.

And Kaino will play his first test since the World Cup final three years ago, returning from Japan to claim the No 8 jersey after Kieran Read was ruled out through concussion.

Both men were as excited as expected at the team's hotel this morning, a mood reflected by Hansen's diverse descriptions of the players sitting on either side of him.

On Cruden: "He's had a couple of games under his belt and he's back to his cheeky self around here, so we think he's ready to go," Hansen said. He's a good reader of the game, he's a good organiser and I believe he's really comfortable now in that role."

And on Kaino: "He's a bit like a caged animal - he's pretty keen to get out there," he said. "I never wanted him to go [to Japan] in the first place. We had a bit of a discussion about that but he always said he'd come back. He's come back at the right time, so that's great."

Hansen revealed his mind was made up in regards to selection about a week ago, although the withdrawals of Read, Sam Cane and Julian Savea complicated matters, leaving "one or two" positions to be mulled over.

First five-eight appeared to be a point of contention, at least based on the respective players' form in Super Rugby. Barrett leads the scoring charts in the competition while Cruden was sidelined for six weeks with a broken thumb, but Hansen said the selectors thought the latter was better suited to starting than playing a role off the bench.

For that, Cruden was thankful, sounding like a man awaiting his third cap rather than his 30th.

"It's always special when you get named in the All Blacks squad and even more special when you get named in the starting XV," he said. "In this environment and this team you can just focus on your role, doing that to the best of your ability and know the guys beside you are going to do the same.

"That's really refreshing and I just can't wait to get out there and get that opportunity on Saturday night."

Kaino, meanwhile, was equally keen for a second coming in the black jersey, one that came with no guarantees when he left these shores while on top of the rugby world. That he quickly regained his touch in New Zealand is a measure of the man, impressing with the Blues at both blindside flanker and No 8 this season.

"I've felt good playing Super 15, with the amount of game time I've been getting the confidence has been growing," he said. "International rugby is a different beast to Super 15 but I can take a bit of confidence from that into Saturday night.

"I'm pretty comfortable [at No 8] and I've got the players around me to help me out. I haven't played too much there at All Black level but I'm confident in the group that we have to get the job done."

- NZ Herald

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