Rugby: Cruden making his mark on Chiefs

By Kris Shannon

Aaron Cruden's footwork helped the Chiefs to a big win over the Brumbies. Photo / Getty
Aaron Cruden's footwork helped the Chiefs to a big win over the Brumbies. Photo / Getty

Shortly before he runs out to battle the Blues in Hamilton tomorrow night, Aaron Cruden will take a marker and etch a couple of commands on his left wristband.

It's a practice he's adopted throughout the campaign, Cruden's first since returning from knee surgery, and one that's had the desired effect if his form and the Chiefs' results are any indicator.

Generally two or three directives, they can range from the obvious - in his first outing of the year, he wrote 'ENERGY' - to the nebulous - in the big win over the Force, it was 'BOUNCE UP'.

What Cruden opts to emphasise tomorrow remains to be seen, but the first five will have a hard time being more prescient than he was before last weekend's humbling of the Brumbies. In a performance that produced three spectacular try assists, Cruden accentuated two key areas: 'FOOTWORK' and 'LINE SPEED'.

The first was quite clear, and quickly became an attribute that brought the Chiefs' third try, when Cruden danced through a gap and caused the defence to collapse before throwing a perfect cut-out pass to Tom Sanders.

The second took some explaining but was no less effective. Having studied the Brumbies and spotted an inclination in their defensive line to quickly rush at opponents in wide channels, the Chiefs sought to take advantage through kicks in behind, leading to Cruden's canny lob for James Lowe's second score.

What looked in the moment like a piece of improvisational brilliance was in fact forecast in black blocked lettering before a whistle even blew.

"I write a couple of my own individual goals that I have for each game," Cruden explained. "It's just an easy way, when you get a little bit of down time in the game, to refocus on the task and what you're there to do."

It's fair to saw Cruden's task this season has been largely accomplished. Find full fitness after last year's devastating injury? Check. Turn a youthful backline into the most inspired attack in the competition? Done. Establish himself as the front-runner for the All Blacks' No 10 jersey? No problem.

But the 27-year-old is hardly completely content with his efforts, always searching for the next decree to write down on that wristband.

"Being out of rugby for almost 10 months, I expected a bit of a teething process," Cruden said. "And I'm still not quite where I'd like to be - I have extremely high standards for myself - but I am pretty happy with how the season's progressing.

"We put a lot of hard work throughout the week into understanding the opposition and certain cues and then, when we get out onto the field, it's just about playing what's in front of us and enjoying our rugby."

Perhaps the only objective Cruden has yet to crack is to take command of the goal-kicking duties, given the accuracy of Damian McKenzie, but even that appears a matter of time. Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has indicated Cruden would earn a chance after the Chiefs returned from their post-Blues bye, a decision that went down well for the All Black hopeful.

"Damian's kicking extremely well and it's great to see," Cruden said. "But as a No 10 and as a goal-kicker, I want to have that responsibility. I want to be out there and kicking."

- NZ Herald

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