Rugby: Anscombe ready to fill Cruden's boots

By Kris Shannon

Gareth Anscombe sees himself as a No 10. Photo / Getty Images
Gareth Anscombe sees himself as a No 10. Photo / Getty Images

When the Chiefs first learned of Aaron Cruden's injury, the players' thoughts immediately turned to the first-five's ready-made replacement.

"I think everyone was trying to look at me to see if I was fist-pumping," said Gareth Anscombe.

Such celebrations might have been inappropriate, given Cruden had broken his thumb, but Anscombe would be forgiven for a few fist pumps this weekend when he makes his first start for the Chiefs in his natural position.

Anscombe has found a home at fullback since leaving the Blues and heading down State Highway 1 but, as successful as the positional shift has proven, he had little say in the matter.

That's because Cruden has been an iron man for the Chiefs, playing every minute this season after starting every game during the last two campaigns. But even the most durable of athletes can succumb to injury, allowing the understudy Anscombe to play the starring role against the Rebels on Saturday night.

"It's a chance for me to have a go in that spot and it's one I've been looking forward to," Anscombe said. "Cruds has been pretty indestructible for this team the last few years, so I guess it's an opportunity now to get a few games at 10 and it's one I'm really excited about." While those opportunities have been few and far between since Anscombe arrived in Hamilton, the 22-year-old will be far from rusty when he runs out at Waikato Stadium. The Chiefs, always trumpeting depth and versatility, have been preparing for the worst every week at practice.

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And that preparation means Cruden's broken left thumb - which does not require an operation but will rule him out for six weeks - is hardly the death knell it could be for other franchises.

"Even though I haven't been playing [at first five], I have been training there during the last two years, in and out of the side during training," Anscombe said. "Me and Cruds have always been swapping and always talk to each other about ideas and views on the game and see what we can do.

"I'm sure in the next few weeks he'll be on the sidelines helping me out and giving me a few ideas and tips. I'm sure we can still work together and hopefully I can put my best foot forward and play well."

The Chiefs need him to do just that after returning without a win from a three-week tour to Perth and South Africa.

But Anscombe's ability at the position, shown in flashes at the Blues, means the defending champions will feel in safe hands despite Cruden's absence.

"It's certainly a pretty demanding position and one that needs a lot of work," Anscombe said. "I'm still comfortable in that spot, although I suppose I'll be a little bit nervous having not played there during a game.

"It is where I still see myself, as a 10.

"It's just a good chance now for me to prove that and hopefully I lead this team successfully."

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