Aaron Cruden 'ready to rumble'
August 14, 2013
Aaron Cruden's confidence should be sky-high after a stellar Super Rugby season with the Chiefs © Getty Images
The All Blacks' unshakeable belief in their depth means Dan Carter's absence against the Wallabies is causing few tremors.
Aaron Cruden should benefit from another Carter injury and start at fly-half in Saturday's Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney, while Beauden Barrett is a classy reserve. Carter will miss at least the two Rugby Championship Tests against Australia this month with a calf strain.
The emergence of Cruden - whose 22 Tests features 10 starts - and Barrett means losing the playmaking great doesn't create the headaches of yesteryear.
Veteran centre Conrad Smith says Cruden has developed considerably since a nervous starting debut three years ago - against the Wallabies in Sydney - when he was replaced with 20 minutes remaining. The All Blacks trailed 22-9 at that stage but won 23-22.
Smith says only subtle adjustments will be needed this week to cater for Cruden. The world champions' firm ethos is that no player is irreplaceable.
"Although we've had a lot of guys who have been there a long time, we like to think that the next best guy is probably equally good," he said. "On the world stage, we like to think we have a squad of 30 players that are the best in the world, not just our starting XV."
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Smith, who is taking a four-month break from playing after the Rugby Championship, believes Carter's own six-month lay-off will prove invaluable for the injury-prone 31-year-old. He says analysts who believe Carter is slowing down and will now cede his spot permanently to Cruden are jumping the gun.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says Cruden's two starts against France in June will hold him in good stead, along with his influential performances for the Super Rugby champion Chiefs in their recent play-off wins over the Crusaders and ACT Brumbies.
"Aaron's been on top of his game all season. He's just gone through two major matches with a lot of intensity and pressure so he's ready to rumble. And he's part of the leadership group, so it's business as usual," Hansen said.
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