Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Hansen backs Cruden to perform

Hansen says Cruden's position on the pecking order behind Dan Carter was a significant factor in his selection. Photo / NZ Herald
Hansen says Cruden's position on the pecking order behind Dan Carter was a significant factor in his selection. Photo / NZ Herald

Steve Hansen has no doubt that Aaron Cruden can quickly discover the form which helped seal the All Blacks' perfect year in 2013.

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For him, the little Chiefs' first-five cemented his place last weekend once he came through his first full game since breaking his thumb. That Cruden called his performance in the defeat to the Waratahs his worst ever for the franchise meant little.

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Hansen, who watched Cruden kick the winning sideline conversion in the final act of the All Blacks' year in Dublin, will back himself to de-clutter the 25-year-old and get the best out of him against England at Eden Park.

Halfback Aaron Smith, meanwhile, said the six-week break would do Cruden the world of good.

"He hasn't played much rugby of late, if anything that's probably a good thing for us because he'll be fresh."

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Cruden is seen as a much better starter than impact player, as Hansen admitted yesterday.

It can be seen as a curse, but Barrett's versatility and ability to impose himself on proceedings once he takes the field gives the reserves bench better balance.

Hansen, who places great store on loyalty, said Cruden's position on the pecking order behind Dan Carter was a significant factor in his selection.

"He's had a couple of games under his belt and he's back to his cheeky self around here. We think he's ready to go. He's a good reader of the game, a good organiser and I believe he is comfortable now in that role.

"There was a big contest between all three of them," Hansen said of his options for the pivotal position. "Colin Slade has made some great strides and there is another bloke on extended leave, he's due to come back ... all of a sudden we've got some heat on there."

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Cruden's introduction to test rugby was not easy. In 2010 he was a replacement in his first five tests, but struggled in his first start — against Australia in Sydney — and wasn't required again until he was sent an SOS by the selectors following Carter's groin injury at the World Cup.

Now he has developed into a reliable tactician, an accurate goalkicker and a slippery runner. His responsibilities at the Chiefs have probably helped in all those departments, but now his focus will have narrowed significantly.

"In this ... team, you can just focus on your role and know the guys inside you are going to do the same so for me," Cruden said.

- NZ Herald

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