Aaron Cruden has been catapulted into the Rugby World Cup final spotlight after first enjoying the tournament as just another fan.

The replacement for injured first-fives Dan Carter and Colin Slade, Cruden has been instrumental in the All Blacks' march to Sunday's tournament final against France.

So how well do you know this young All Blacks star?

1. Already a rugby world champion


In 2009, Cruden led the New Zealand under-20s team as they sank England 44-28 to win the junior world rugby championship.

2. Destined for bigger things

In the same year, Cruden was named the International Rugby Board's junior player of the year, joining fellow World Cup squad mates Jerome Kaino and Isaia Toeava as a recipient of the award.

3. He's a cancer survivor

In 2008, at just 19 years of age, Cruden was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The illness forced him to cut short his debut season with Manawatu, though he was back in action - and in Graham Henry's sights - by 2009.

Cruden has named fellow testicular cancer survivor Lance Armstrong as the person he'd most like to meet.
4. He's loyal, and as hard as nails

So strong was Cruden's sense of responsibility towards his Manawatu teammates, he didn't tell them he was due to have his testicle removed only days after a crucial Ranfurly Shield challenge against Auckland - his first start in the national provincial championship. He felt they didn't need the distraction.

5. Maybe too hard

Cruden would have backed up the next weekend against Taranaki if the cancer hadn't spread to his lungs, requiring him to undergo chemotherapy.

6. He's bounced back from illness before

Cruden had a chance to represent New Zealand at the secondary school level, but a battle with tuberculosis took him out of the running.

7. Baby-faced, but not the baby

Despite his diminutive stature and youthful looks, Cruden is not the youngest member of the New Zealand Rugby World Cup squad though he is one of six who hadn't been born when the All Blacks won their last title in 1987.

Zac Guildford is the youngest member of the current squad, having been born on February 8, 1989. Cruden was born a month earlier, on January 8, 1989. However, Guildford was first to wear the black jersey, in 2009.

8. A star-studded debut

Cruden made his All Blacks debut off the bench against Ireland in New Plymouth on June 12, 2010. He replaced Dan Carter in the 54th minute after the champion first-five scored his 1000th test point.

Also wearing the black jersey for the first time that day were World Cup squad mates Israel Dagg, Sam Whitelock and Victor Vito.

9. A rough initiation

Cruden made five appearances off the bench before starting at first-five against Australia on September 11, 2010, when the All Blacks claimed a 23-22 victory in Sydney. He would not play again for the All Blacks until his unexpected Rugby World Cup recall.

10. It's in the blood

In pulling on the green and white for Manawatu, Cruden followed in the footsteps of his father. Stu Cruden was a former captain for the province.