First take: Cruden now ahead of Carter?

By Dylan Cleaver

Aaron Cruden kicks the ball against the Wallabies at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images
Aaron Cruden kicks the ball against the Wallabies at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images

Don't worry, Dan Carter will be back soon. Really?

It's fair enough to be excited about the return of a man who can stake a claim to be the greatest five-eighth of them all; it's much harder to make a case for automatic inclusion in the All Black starting XV.

Such was Aaron Cruden's poise, his calm authority, his defence, his decision-making and, let's not hide his light under a bushel, his sheer brilliance, it's now okay to ask the question as to whether Carter's primacy is a given.

It doesn't need to be an emotive argument: nobody's questioning Carter's excellence, his match-winning boot and his years of exceptional service. All Steve Hansen has to ask, is whether Carter at his best in 2014 (and forecast ahead to 2015, if you will) as good as Cruden at his best in 2014?

He might decide, despite Carter's "red-flag" status, that the Crusader is still more reliable on a consistent basis than Cruden. He might have noticed that when the Wallabies made their spirited semi-comeback midway through the second half, Cruden made a questionable defensive decision when Michael Hooper scored, that exposed Aaron Smith and Richie McCaw.

But hell, it was a minor smudge on a glittering night. It is easy to forget that when the All Blacks played the Wallabies on this Fortress in the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup, Cruden was identified as the All Blacks weak link. It seems laughable now.

It should be noted, too, that Beauden Barrett made more than a cameo and spent some time at first receiver, where he looked test-match comfortable. He might not be trusted as much as the other two - he is yet to start a test at No 10 - but he's done enough to enter the conversation.

It's a conversation that, for the next few days at least, should be dominated by Cruden.

- NZ Herald

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