All Blacks: Cruden gets on top in controlling mindgame

By Kris Shannon

Aaron Cruden orchestrated the AB's best 40mins of the series with an explosive start at Waikato Stadium. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Aaron Cruden orchestrated the AB's best 40mins of the series with an explosive start at Waikato Stadium. Photo / Brett Phibbs

All it took was an altered mindset for the All Blacks to once again see the real Aaron Cruden.

Having shown considerable rust in the opening test, followed by a steady performance in the second, Cruden played a large part in ensuring the final encounter against England at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday night was over by halftime.

The first five-eighth made way for Beauden Barrett shortly after the break but by then the damage had been done.

Cruden had already orchestrated the All Blacks' best 40 minutes of the series, picking apart the English defence and demonstrating why he remains Dan Carter's second-in-command.

It was a showcase that came from a subtle shift in approach for Cruden, emboldened by the faith of his coaches, the home crowd in Hamilton and increasing confidence since returning from injury.

"I had a real mental mind-shift," he said yesterday.

"I thought I was probably playing within myself a little bit in the first two tests and I just wanted to back my natural ability and be really instinctive.

"I thought it showed in my performance."

He thought right. Cruden played with the magic that saw him mature into one of the game's top directors last season, delivering equal parts vision and skill to have a hand in everything good during his side's four-try first half.

His healed thumb might not have been bothering him physically in the series' opening two clashes but, as assistant coach Ian Foster suggested during the week, No10 is the hardest position for a player to pick up from where they left off.

The instinctive play needed to flourish in the role doesn't return overnight and Cruden was pleased to be retained until his natural ability again bubbled to the surface.

"Being out for a few weeks and only getting a couple of runs for the Chiefs beforehand - I don't want to use it as an excuse but I thought it would take a little while to find my feet," he said. "I was just happy to get out there and back my natural instincts and I thought that showed. The boys gave the backs a solid platform and we were able to launch off that."

While the All Blacks were unable to replicate their fluid first half once Barrett took over at No10, Cruden was magnanimous towards his replacement. The Chiefs man acknowledged his desire for more minutes at Waikato Stadium but thought Barrett "performed really well" after taking the reins.

That description would be apt for Cruden's own game, 45 minutes that reminded the All Blacks of the strength they possess at pivot.

"You always want it to happen straight away but it doesn't," he said. "But it was pretty satisfying to see all that come together."

- APNZ

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