Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Cruden lifts the bar

All Black boss singles out Chiefs first-five for praise after satisfying all-round showing.

The uncertainty has been replaced. On everyone's part.

Aaron Cruden knows it, we have seen it and the Wallabies felt it as the five-eighths arranged their opening Rugby Championship demise.

The Chiefs' playmaker was edgy about his reappearance at the same Sydney ground where he had struggled in 2010 to absorb the pressure of his first test start.

"We've got a pretty good first-five [Dan Carter] injured back home and given an opportunity I just wanted to nail my role and I think I was able to do that," he was able to say.

"It was good to get some dry ball over here and play the expansive type of game New Zealanders like to play."

Three years ago he had battled with the stress of the occasion and public expectation he could emulate Carter.

He had come to realise he was not going to play like Dan Carter and had to play his game and improve those attributes which had got him to the top.

"That was a pretty tough challenge for me but I think I am a better player for it. Everyone experiences difficult times and that was a pretty difficult time for me," said Cruden.

He was limping on a sore knee which saw him leave the field late but had little doubt he would be ready for Bledisloe Cup II in Wellington this weekend.

He will carry the confidence of 20 points from Sydney on Saturday night where his goalkicking, which was tepid in the Super 15 final, failed only twice from the sideline when he hit the posts.

Where Cruden's tactical kicking game and match authority stammered in 2010, he was bouncy and zoned-in this time. He brought the match mileage of twin Super 15 titles with him and the continued belief from a range of coaches.

All Black boss Steve Hansen singled Cruden out as one of his troops for praise in a very satisfying performance.

"Some people have question-marked him at times at this level," said Hansen. "But I think he showed tonight that he is a true international player of world-class ability and he led the team very well."

Cruden carried his sharpness into the post-match questions where he batted away several curly inquiries.

He was not about to give the tabloids or the Wallabies any verbal help for the repeat clash.

"They have threats right across the board I think," he said.

"We were able to contain them tonight but we have to be careful to keep our feet on the ground. It was a solid start but we know we can be a lot better in a lot of areas too and they are going to be.

"So they will be working really hard throughout the week and we need to continue to do the same so anything they potentially throw at us in Wellington, we are ready for."

Part of the All Black tactics had been to manipulate the Wallaby back three and take them out of the test by mixing up their kicking and running strategies.

The Wallabies would alter once more though and offer different pictures this week so that would be another challenge.

He understood the pressure Matt Toomua had been under on debut for the Wallabies in the pair's second joust in a fortnight. He offered a cordial and decent transtasman compliment to his rival.

The test was in the balance at the break when the All Blacks had their lead cut to 25-19 after Will Genia's spectacular runaway try.

"We had a good talk in the sheds that we needed to start again and we came out in the second half and played the territory game a lot better. As a first-five I'm sure Matt found that hard to try to get the Wallabies back in the right field position when we were able to do that well."

- NZ Herald

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