Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Cruden strives for better run while Carter sidelined

All Black five-eighths Aaron Cruden marks himself hard.

He has to if he wants to keep biting at the heels of Daniel Carter while the side's backline director is on an enforced two-week rest with a fractured bone in his hand.

Cruden's general play at Eden Park was steady but his tactical kicking and shooting for goal fell short.

Punts without a great deal of timing and three wayward penalty attempts were curious efforts from Cruden, compared with his success during the Super 15.

While France were able to create some heat through their kicks, there was not as much pressure built up by the All Blacks.

For much of his fledgling 21-test career Cruden has been the backup five-eighths, but Carter's injury has given him at least a two-test run.

This week that upgrade is in Carter's home patch, an appropriate venue for Cruden to make amends.

If the weather is a bit dreary and conditions awkward underfoot, then the All Blacks will aim to exert more sustained difficulties for France with varied kick and chase routines.

Last year the All Blacks laboured in difficult conditions in their second test at Christchurch after seeing off Ireland comfortably in the opener. A late Carter penalty gave them an awkward 22-19 victory.

"You never know what the winter is going to throw at you in New Zealand, so if it does get a little bit greasy or wet, I think being able to apply pressure [through] our kicking game is pretty important for both sides," Cruden said yesterday.

He tried to deliver parts of Carter's style and worked hard on creating his own methods.

"I'm not trying to be Dan Carter. I'm Aaron Cruden. I'm just trying to go out there and play to the best of my ability and do the jersey proud."

It had taken him a bit longer to get used to kicking the adidas balls rather than the Gilbert used in the Super 15.

"They're a little bit softer so you have to really strike them pure and true ... They do seem to travel a little bit further, they feel sweeter off the foot. Hopefully I'll send a few over the black dot if I get the chance on Saturday," he said.

"I've still got a couple of days to do more practising, and just practising the whole game plan so that we're ready for what the French are going to throw at us," he said.

"They really came hungry in that first test - they were physical and aggressive at the breakdown and we just need to be better in a lot of areas.

"We were probably just a little bit slow to react."

- NZ Herald

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