Rugby: Wallabies aware Cruden just as dangerous

The Wallabies are drawing no cheer from injury to their long-time All Blacks nemesis Dan Carter, pointing out the good form of his expected replacement Aaron Cruden.

Superstar five-eighths Carter will miss at least New Zealand's first two matches in the Rugby Championship, the Bledisloe Cup clashes with Australia in Sydney and Wellington over the next two weekends, after being ruled out with a calf strain.

It continues an injury trend for the 95-time capped veteran pivot, who also missed two tests of the All Blacks' successful three-test series against France in June.

Carter's playmaking skills, tactical nous and nerveless goalkicking have caused the Wallabies enormous heartache over the past decade of overwhelming All Blacks Bledisloe Cup dominance.

He has tasted defeat against Australia just five times in 24 tests, scoring 322 points at an average of more than 13 a game.

But, unlike years past when New Zealand struggled for a quality back- up to Carter, they now have depth at five-eighths headed by 24-year-old Cruden, who has accumulated 22 test caps, 10 of them as a starter, including two against France in June.

Cruden underlined his big match temperament by steering the Chiefs to a second consecutive Super Rugby title this month, despite some uncharacteristically erratic goalkicking in the final against the Brumbies.

"Obviously that's a big loss for the Kiwi team, but they've got enough depth to cover that," Wallabies back Adam Ashley-Cooper said. "I think Aaron Cruden will do a pretty good job.

"He'll slot right in nicely, so I don't think there will be too much disruption to the Kiwi team.

"Aaron played the first two games of the French series and he did a pretty good job there."

New Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie still has to reveal who his own starting five-eighths will be for Saturday's match in Sydney.

With incumbent James O'Connor shifting to the outside backs, the recalled Quade Cooper is expected to get the nod ahead of uncapped duo Matt Toomua and Bernard Foley.

Ashley-Cooper revealed McKenzie was keeping the players guessing about the backline formation.

"There's been no indication of who is playing where actually and I guess that's a good thing. It's created a real competitive environment already," Ashley-Cooper said. "A lot of guys are shifting around the backline without any idea of where we'll end up."

He said featuring in so many failed Bledisloe Cup campaigns only increased the challenge for Australia, who haven't won the trophy since 2002.

"I think that the squad we've got together here is really exciting," he said. "I really like the look of the new faces that have been included in the new [30-man] squad and over the last couple of weeks at training there's a real buzz and a real excitement around the group."

- AAP

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