Rugby: Anscombe's got the goods

By Campbell Burnes

Chiefs have able replacement for injured Cruden at No 10 in their versatile fullback.

For the first time since 2011, the Chiefs will run out this weekend without Aaron Cruden in the No 10 jersey.

That is 42 games, to be precise, but while the loss of the All Blacks pivot to a broken thumb for six to eight weeks is a blow, Chiefs fans should not fear the elevation of his probable replacement, Gareth Anscombe.

Anscombe has given sterling service from fullback for the Chiefs in the past two campaigns, is among the top three goalkickers in the country, and is skilled enough to adapt his game to how the Chiefs want their pivot to play.

Cruden has been omnipresent for Dave Rennie's Chiefs and has racked up the third most minutes of anyone in the past three seasons. He offers a priceless ability to offload in the tackle, with 13 of them in 2014.

Don't expect Anscombe, should he slot into the position, to start offloading like Cruden, but his wide skillset should ensure the transition is relatively seamless.

Auckland assistant coach Paul Feeney coached Anscombe during his season with Auckland at first five in 2012.

"Obviously Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith are very astute and the style they want to play will be similar to how Cruden plays. Gareth has a good running game and can take the ball to the line as well. When he's at his most confident, he backs himself to pick good mismatches and he can get balls away in the tackle," says Feeney.

"This is a great opportunity for him to show what he can do at 10. He's got all the attributes."

The Chiefs have several versatile, multi-skilled backs, and it may benefit Anscombe to have a natural second receiver such as Andrew Horrell in the No 12 jersey.

"If you look at some of the great Super Rugby 10-12 combinations, Steve Larkham had Rod Kafer outside him and Andrew Mehrtens had Aaron Mauger outside him.

"They are 12s who are smart. It would be ideal for Gareth to have someone like Horrell outside him because it'll take a little time to get back into [playing 10]. Horrell's got good vision, he can help with some of the calls initially, and take a bit of pressure off Gareth."

Anscombe has come a long way from the uncertain tyro who failed to fully control proceedings with the Blues during their annus horribilis of 2012. He played 10 games and scored 102 points then, but did not assert himself, perhaps understandable for a 20-year-old with Ma'a Nonu outside and a brittle forward pack in front.

Still, the delisting of Anscombe, a practice now outlawed, was one of the more incomprehensible selectorial decisions the Blues have made, especially as he went on to win a Super title with the Chiefs, and the Blues have their own obvious stresses in that position.

His tackling looks more solid after shoulder surgery and he generally seems surer of himself. He scored a scorching try and landed a match-equalling sideline conversion against the Bulls, though was not as slick in the draw with the Cheetahs last weekend.

Feeney says he welcomes the looming Auckland ITM Cup No 10 selection headache, with Anscombe and Simon Hickey, both accurate off the tee, on the books.

- NZ Herald

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