All Blacks: Cruden's performance almost a perfect 10

By Dylan Cleaver

All Black Aaron Cruden. Photo / Dean Purcell
All Black Aaron Cruden. Photo / Dean Purcell

World, meet Aaron Cruden.

The Manawatu first five-eighths stepped on to the world's biggest stage at the Rugby World Cup last night and played, well, he played a little bit like a right-footed Dan Carter.

There was the odd mis-step - a loose pass early, a couple of cute grubbers that were not on - but in between times he controlled the All Blacks like a seasoned pro. So much so that even Piri Weepu, whose radar was not so finely tuned last night, recognised early that he didn't have to carry the team on his shoulders.

One searing break Cruden made in the first half seemed to catch even his teammates out as the support arrived just a little late after Will Genia pulled off a try-saving cover tackle.

Cruden tackled too. The Wallabies promised to run some traffic down his channel and they made good on it. He is not a front-on defensive presence - at 84kg he can't be - but he took out the legs.

The sight of him dropping back into the pocket to slot a drop-goal was almost revelatory. All Blacks, knockout rugby and drop goals have never been easy bedfellows.

In terms of the battle of the No 10s, it was a mismatch. While Quade Cooper flubbed his way around Eden Park, Cruden looked in command. So which one was making just his second test start?

Cruden's graduation to the All Blacks was a heartwarming tale of triumph over cancer.

The fairytale did not extend, however, to his debut against the Wallabies in Sydney. Australia exposed his physical and mental frailties to the point where Graham Henry took him off with 20 minutes remaining and the match in the balance.

It was a performance that spooked Henry and Wayne Smith. Cruden was not picked for the end-of-year tour - a mistake in hindsight - and muddled his way through the early rounds of the Super 15 for the Hurricanes.

All of a sudden something clicked and he hasn't really looked back. Cruden has started to look like the first-five people believed he could be.

Last night's performance will go a long way to not only soothe those short-term nerves but answer the long-term question of succession.

The All Black selectors might have fluked it, but they've found a winner.

- NZ Herald

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