Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Ireland to target Cruden

Ireland have praised the talents of Aaron Cruden but there is little doubt they will target Dan Carter's replacement in the final test of the series at Waikato Stadium tomorrow night.

After the Irish put the finishing touches on their preparations today, backs coach Les Kiss was glowing about the way the 23-year-old Chiefs playmaker operates on attack.

Possibly more pertinent in what is likely to be a closely-fought and intense test is his effectiveness on defence.

Kiss was asked several questions about Cruden's tackling today and will want his charges to ask a few of their own tomorrow night.

The Australian said Ireland had built a profile on Cruden, garnered from his work at the Chiefs this season. He added that the Chiefs often protected him on defence, pushing him wider, but suggested the All Blacks would back him in the inside channel.

As for sending the big Irish forwards at the slightly built player, Kiss said: "We've looked at that but when he is in the right type of environment he's a handy little legs tackler, he can chop the legs underneath and open up opportunities for the back row to get over the ball. If we are going to go down the that channel we have to make sure we go in the right fashion."

Cruden has evolved into a sharp operator at first-five over his 10-test career. He is probably quicker than Carter and his goalkicking has also become extremely consistent. He will relish the chance to step out of the 87-test veteran's shadow on his home ground.

Kiss said the support he has around him in the form of Chiefs teammates Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Cane and Liam Messam will also help.

"There's some familiarity there for them and, by virtue of that, I think there will be some shifts in how they play their game.

"When you look at Cruden closely he's a slippery character. He'll do some of the things that Carter will do but he'll put his own little touch on it. If you don't get hold of him early he can certainly carve you up and we'll have to make sure we close up his space effectively."

The other key All Black missing is No 8 Kieran Read, who has been a thorn in Ireland's side over the previous two tests with his combination at the restarts with Carter.

Wing Fergus McFadden admitted as much, when saying: "Obviously that flat kick with Carter, that was on the money every time and you really need to get up there and contest. It was becoming a bit of a dogfight."

Ireland will be hoping they can create one of their own in Hamilton and will be extending an invitation to Cruden.

- APNZ

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