Head to Head: Aaron Cruden v Beauden Barrett
May 22, 2014
Dan Carter (left) talks to Beauden Barrett at the New Zealand All Blacks' wider squad training camp © Getty Images
Beauden Barrett and fit-again Aaron Cruden were named this week in the New Zealand All Blacks' wider training group ahead of the Test series against England, adding extra spice to the head-to-head battle when the Chiefs host the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday.
Aaron Cruden is fully fit to resume after breaking his left thumb © Getty Images
Colin Slade was also named in the squad as the incumbent All Blacks fly-half, Dan Carter, is yet to play since November due to injury. Simon Hickey and Lima Sopoaga, like the aforementioned trio, are also playing well to show the depth of quality contenders for the coveted No.10 jersey.
Cruden and Barrett are the two men most likely to wear New Zealand's No.10 jumper against England, however, so we have showcased the playmakers who go face each other in Wellington this weekend - Cruden returning from a broken thumb through the bench and Barrett returning from a hip injury in the starting side - comparing their figures from 2013 and 2014, for both club and country.
The comparison of their form at Test level provides a good insight into the different options they provide the All Blacks. Barrett enjoyed fewer than half Cruden's minutes on the field but he managed to beat twice as many defenders despite making less than half as many carries. Of course, it should be noted that Barrett was often involved late in matches, when defences are perhaps less stringent, as well as filling in across the backline. In Cruden, New Zealand had a genuine outlet to create tries for others and a player who was largely reliable when it came to his handling and kicks from hand.
Turn to Super Rugby last year, and you saw the other side of Cruden that was not so prevalent in Test rugby - befitting the differences in how the game is played at each level. He was far more dangerous when it came to getting over the gainline and finding space, as well as creating for others around him. Barrett showed, through his defenders beaten tally, that he was an elusive player but perhaps lacked the nous of the more experienced Cruden.
Step forward to 2014 and enter a more experienced Beauden Barrett, who is fast becoming a well-regarded player despite his tender years.
Barrett has had plenty more game time this year and has already managed to evade as many tackles as he did in the whole of last season. He is perhaps a little less adventurous when it comes to offloading, but he is finding his way over the try line more often. His defence is notably improving as well, and his claim could be hard for All Blacks selectors to ignore.
That said, Cruden has hardly been a slouch this season, despite his more limited involvement due to injury, breaking the line regularly. Their head-to-head clash this week could go a long way to deciding the destination of the Test jumper, as they are two quality players. The jumper is, perhaps, Cruden's to lose - or Barrett's to gain - and equally much will depend on the All Blacks' game plan
But this is not simply a two-horse race for the jersey.
Slade has produced some dazzling displays this season, and he has had a direct involvement in seven tries already this year for the Crusaders. His defence is almost impeccable, too.
Sopoaga and Hickey are not in the wider squad, and they are unlikely to get the call unless the players ahead of them in the pecking order start dropping like flies - as All Blacks pivots did in the 2011 Rugby World Cup and ahead of the second Bledisloe Cup Test in 2013, but they are industrious players who have turned in solid displays themselves. Statistically, they are the strongest goal-kickers of all the contenders, but Sopoaga has been erratic with ball in hand and sloppy in defence.
© Opta Stats for ESPNscrum
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