Cruden more than capable of stepping up

Last updated 14:01 23/11/2012
Aaron Cruden
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STEPPING UP: Aaron Cruden is once again on standby for an injured Dan Carter.

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Aaron Cruden must feel like he works at the rugby equivalent of the emergency call centre.

OPINION: Once again All Black coach Steve Hansen will tap the 23-year-old on the shoulder tonight and tell him to stand by.

It may feel a tad like de ja vu for Cruden, who has spent his career covering for the greatest No 10 to wear the black jersey.

It was two years ago now that Dan Carter pulled out of the All Blacks Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies in Sydney.

Then-coach Graham Henry whistled up Cruden who got his first test start after watching five from the bench.

Thirteen months later Henry picked up the phone again when Carter's groin snapped before the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup.

Cruden not only answered, but seized the moment with a stellar display in the 20-6 semi-final win over Australia then started again in the final against France.

This year it's been a similar story with starts against Ireland, Argentina and South Africa while Carter nursed hamstring and calf strains.

Last week in Rome, when Cruden heard his name read out in the starting fifteen, it was the first time it had not been due to an injury to his mentor.

At fulltime after the All Blacks 42-10 win over Italy, he was heard thanking his coach for leaving him on for the full 80 minutes.

Hansen will be glad he resisted the urge to placate the Italian public by putting Carter on during the second half.

But more so that he gave Cruden valuable game time. If he starts against Wales it will test him again with just the captain's run tomorrow to really get his head around the starting role.

The Manawatu pivot hasn't had an easy task as an All Black. He showed for the Chiefs last year what he can do with extended game time, but at test level he has had to operate in fits and starts.

Any first five eighth will tell you that is not an easy thing. Continuity is key. Time in the saddle the only way to get to know the nuances of the tools at your disposal.

Each player reacts differently to commands and to situations.

Familiarity breeds success, particularly in the backs where reacting to key words, or even subtle movements, can be the difference between a try and a breakdown.

If Cruden does start against Wales the All Blacks will not panic, but they will lose some of the instinctive play that makes their attack.

When he put on a masterly 25 minutes against Ireland in June, it was notable that Chiefs teammate Sonny Bill Williams was outside him.

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Last week against Italy it was evident Cruden and Ma'a Nonu were getting used to each other again.

But they will be better for the outing should they team up again on Sunday morning and there is a statistic that strongly suggests Carter's absence is not the end of the world.

Over 18 tests, Cruden has yet to play in a losing All Blacks team.

- Stuff

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Is Dan Carter still the first-choice No 10 for the ABs?

Absolutely. He's just a bit rusty.

I'm going to sit on the fence.

No way. He's past his best.

Aaron Cruden is the answer.

I'm a Beauden Barrett fan.

Colin Slade is definitely the right choice.

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