Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Wallabies prepare to target Cruden

Aaron Cruden is set to start against the Wallabies. Photo / Dean Purcell
Aaron Cruden is set to start against the Wallabies. Photo / Dean Purcell

Attention Aaron Cruden - be prepared to make a tackle or two against the Wallabies because they are going to target you in the World Cup semifinal at Eden Park on Sunday night.

Teams don't usually like discussing tactics ahead of big games in case it gives the opposition an edge but Australia halfback Will Genia today was happy to predict some traffic will be going the way of 22-year-old first-five Cruden.

Cruden will be thrust into what is easily the biggest game of his life on Sunday following groin injuries to Dan Carter and Colin Slade. His inexperience - seven caps - and weight, or lack of it - about 82kg - means he will come in for plenty of attention from the Australian forward pack.

The All Blacks team isn't named until Friday but Graham Henry yesterday signalled that Cruden would get the selectors' backing in the number 10 jersey, with Piri Weepu, the man of the match in the quarter-final against Argentina, staying at halfback.

With Genia playing such an important part in running the show for the Wallabies, alongside Quade Cooper, his comments about Cruden were revealing. "Aaron Cruden is a good player,'' said Genia. "He's an attacking player who likes to take the line on and he's got Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith outside him and Piri Weepu inside him who obviously stepped up on Sunday.

"He's not the biggest bloke so we'll look to send a bit of traffic at him and wear him out a little bit.''

Given Cruden's poise and confidence after stepping in for Slade in the first half of the All Blacks' hard-fought victory over the Pumas, he will be comfortable about the defensive challenge posed by the big Wallabies runners lining up to have a crack at him.

Besides, the Wallabies are already weary themselves following their trench warfare-style victory over the Springboks in Wellington in their quarter-final. That would have taken plenty out of them, both physically and emotionally, but Genia was confident they could do it all again against the All Blacks.

"We're traditional rivals. Australians will always want to step up and perform against the All Blacks. It also helps having yesterday off and today off [training]. We're having a pool session today so that's two days of getting the body right. Physically I think we're being managed very well and I think we'll be right for Sunday.

"I've never been in a game like that and won. If you look at the stats alone you'd think they had beaten us 50-nil. It was just won on guts and character and to be honest I'm so proud to have been a part of that performance and to have won a game like that.''

Genia felt Sunday's match would be more of a running game and a better spectacle and said Ma'a Nonu was the most important player for the All Blacks now following the tournament-ending injuries to Carter, Slade and fullback Mils Muliaina.

"The biggest thing is having Ma'a Nonu there,'' Genia said. "If he went down they would be in trouble because he's been outstanding with his ability to carry the ball and also his support play as well.''

Self belief isn't usually a problem for Australian sportspeople and Genia was predictably sure of himself when asked how confident he was ahead of the match.

"100 percent confident. I don't know if I could be more confident. I don't want to sound arrogant - I'm not a cocky or arrogant bloke - but I really believe we will win.''

- APNZ

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