A virtuoso display from first five-eighth Aaron Cruden guided Manawatu to an emphatic 54-20 win over Waikato in a ITM Cup match in Palmerston North tonight.
The 22-year-old, unwanted by All Blacks selectors, scored one try, had a hand in two others and scored 29 points as the championship division side overran their premiership opposition.
The green and whites mixed crunching defence with attacking flair to leave Waikato, who could have gone top of the premiership table with victory, floundering with five tries in a devastating opening 30 minutes.
Cruden, who gave a flawless goalkicking display landing all 10 attempts, was the architect of most of the Turbos' attacks and his partnership with halfback Aaron Smith gave Manawatu a cutting edge Waikato could not contain.
It took only four minutes for the hosts to score with No 8 James Oliver swooping on a loose ball following a scrum that disintegrated near the Waikato line to go over for a try.
The Mooloos were held up over the line shortly after the restart and then Manawatu hit back with one of the tries of the season. Smith's thumping tackle on Waikato first five-eighths Trent Renata jolted the ball free and then Cruden, two metres out from his own line, chipped ahead and regathered with the ball eventually finding its way back to Smith who sent Craig Clare over in the corner.
A Renata penalty got the visitors on the board before a strong run from impressive Manawatu fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder resulted in Cruden sending a triple skip pass to his captain Nick Crosswell to go over out wide.
Cruden was hauled down in the corner and then Smith was held up over the line but Cruden would not be denied and capped a superb start with an incisive burst to scoot over from 20 metres out.
The home side's attack had been rapier-like but it was their aggressive defence that paid dividends for the fifth try when flanker Doug Tietjens effected a turnover and broke free before popping a perfect pass to Aseli Tikoirotuma who outstripped the defence to put Manawatu 35-3 up.
Waikato appeared dead and buried at this stage but former All Black halfback Brendon Leonard gave the visitors some hope to lay on two tries in three minutes before the break. His snipe down the blindside sent Jackson Willison over and then a break out from inside his own half resulted in centre Save Tokula going over to reduce the arrears to 35-17 at the break.
After a seven-try burst in the opening 40 minutes the second half could not live up to those heights. Renata, a late replacement in the No 10 jersey for the injured Stephen Donald, kicked an early penalty, but Cruden then landed four successive penalties to ensure there was no way back for Waikato.
Replacement Lewis Marshall had time to intercept a Renata pass to run in Manawatu's sixth try and take them over the 50-point barrier.
The home crowd loved what they had seen and when coach Dave Rennie, who like Cruden will be with the Chiefs for next year's Super 15 season, made his way down from the stand with minutes left he was afforded a stirring ovation by supporters.
Manawatu 54 (James Oliver, Craig Clare, Nick Crosswell, Aaron Cruden, Aseli Tikoirotuma, Lewis Marshall tries; Cruden 4 pen, 6 con) Waikato 20 (Jackson Willison, Save Tokula tries; Trent Renata 2 pen, 2 con) Halftime: 35-17
- HERALD ONLINE