Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: All eyes on Cruden's goal-kicking skills

All Blacks selectors will be hoping for high pressure exposure of No10 abilities.
Beauden Barrett
Beauden Barrett

Tonight, as the All Blacks coaches and selectors take their seats at Westpac Stadium for the clash between the Hurricanes and Chiefs, they might be waiting for one thing in particular - a kickable penalty or conversion attempt for the visitors.

As the All Blacks' No10 in waiting following Dan Carter's move to France, Aaron Cruden will want the tee delivered to him, and the selectors probably will too; the June tests against Wales are rapidly approaching and they will want a goalkicker in their team who has practised his art under the pressure of competition matches, rather than endless repetition at training.

Cruden, in the form of his life everywhere else on the park, has kicked only once this season - against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires - before Damian McKenzie was instructed to take the tee from him in that match, a narrow win.

McKenzie, the little Chiefs fullback enjoying a season to remember himself, was in sole charge of the goalkicking duties before that match and has had them since; leaving Cruden's success ratio at 25 per cent with one out of four attempts.

McKenzie kicked well earlier in the season, but his percentage has now dropped to 69 per cent, with 33 successes from 48 attempts.

Now might be a good time for Chiefs coach Dave Rennie to hand the tee back to Cruden, for the player's sake as much as anything else. The 27-year-old will know the All Black selectors want him kicking and the last thing Rennie needs is for Cruden to suddenly start worrying about how to force a return to higher honours after his knee injury in April last year ruled him out of the World Cup.

Though he hasn't had much of an opportunity with the tee this year, he has always kicked reasonably well for the All Blacks.

Cruden began his All Black career with a test against Ireland in 2010 and has played a total of 37 tests.

Aaron Cruden
Aaron Cruden

One of his most difficult matches was his first test start - against Australia in Sydney in September that year, when he was replaced by Colin Slade. Ever since, the testicular cancer survivor has impressed with his mental strength and maturity.

He had a blip in 2014 when he missed a team meeting before a flight to Argentina and was left at home, but responded well to that setback and also his injury of last year - an ACL rupture - and is probably the ideal role model in terms of his rehabilitation for Blues midfielder Rene Ranger, who suffered the same injury last weekend.

This is an important match for the competition-leading Chiefs, but also the Hurricanes, the beaten finalists on their home ground last year and who have won their past five matches.

Chris Boyd's men beat the Chiefs twice last year on their way to the final against the Highlanders and will feel in Beauden Barrett they have the perfect player to combat Cruden and company.

Highlanders first-five Lima Sopoaga - kicking at 83 per cent - will feel he is in the frame too after he narrowly missed out on World Cup selection last year, but Cruden is the front-runner for his game management skills and ability to engage defensive lines, with Barrett not too far behind.

- NZ Herald

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