All Blacks: Cruden and Smith set to go

By Daniel Richardson

Aaron Cruden started outside Aaron Smith in the 60-0 rout against Ireland on June 23. Photo / Getty Images
Aaron Cruden started outside Aaron Smith in the 60-0 rout against Ireland on June 23. Photo / Getty Images

If you thought the All Blacks had played at a high-octane pace during their first five tests of the year, Manawatu's two favourite Aarons could send the side in to warp speed tomorrow night against Argentina.

Aaron of the Cruden variety has been called upon to wear the No 10 jersey against the Pumas this weekend after regular pivot Dan Carter was forced to withdraw yesterday (with a tight left calf).

That presents the All Blacks with a great opportunity to give their inside back combination of the future another chance to direct traffic on the big stage, with halfback Aaron Smith likely to provide more lightning quick ball from the base of the ruck.

While Carter has played four of this year's tests at first-five, Cruden started outside Smith in the 60-0 rout against Ireland on June 23.

He was forced to leave the field after only 20 minutes - which was enough time for him to have had a hand in the side's first two tries - while Smith linked well with Cruden's replacement Beauden Barrett as the game wore on.

Taranaki's Barrett will again cover first-five from the bench this weekend after spending the week training with the All Blacks.

Cruden, who has never been on the losing side in his 12-test career that began against Ireland in 2010, said he got word earlier in the week that Carter's calf could be an issue and as a result he got in a few extra repetitions with the backline at training.

"For me it was good to get in there and run the cutter a bit more as well and that's what we want as a player," he said.

"So, for me it was great to be out there and trying to boss the boys around a bit.

"I think the good thing is with this team is we are probably all told to prepare to play so everyone gets to know the game plan; everyone gets to know what relates to them and for me it was doing that throughout the whole week. I don't think it sort of impacted me too much getting notified this late. I'm just keen to sort of rip in to it on Saturday night now."

Cruden said he expected the big Argentine forwards to run at him given his small stature but that's nothing new for a player who is routinely one of the lightest on the paddock.

The 23-year-old was the form five-eighth of the Super Rugby competition as he piloted the Chiefs to their maiden title but he said it wasn't a guarantee his form would carry over to the international arena.

"It seems a long time ago now but I'm just keen to go out there and play my natural game within the systems that we have. I've been given an opportunity now and I'm keen to make the most of it."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said it was unclear whether Carter's ailment would keep him out of next weekend's clash with South Africa but he didn't think the absence of the 89-test veteran would be a major drama.

"They've got their own strengths and weaknesses but how we play the game is structured around the whole team not just individuals so really it doesn't make much difference," Hansen said.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Victor Vito, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Charlie Faumuina, Sam Whitelock, Liam Messam, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith

- APNZ

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