NZ retain world under-20 rugby title
Anyone bemoaning a dearth of quality first five-eighths in New Zealand rugby can rest easy after the under-20 junior world championship final.
While the All Blacks brains trust ponder their limited options while the world's best No 10, Dan Carter, rehabilitates from an achilles tendon injury, an unusually gifted playmaker is emerging from the undergrowth.
Aaron Cruden won over many admirers yesterday when captaining New Zealand to victory in the under-20 junior world championship final against England in Japan.
The Manawatu representative cut a hugely influential figure as the New Zealanders won 44-28 in Tokyo, scoring two tries in a three-minute spell in the first half as the age group team repeated their success of last year against the same opposition.
A combative player not shy of putting his body on the line, Cruden led his side intelligently and largely chose to move the ball by hand as the New Zealanders successfully moved the big English forwards around Prince Chichibu Stadium.
The quality of his performance was not lost on beaten England coach Mark Mapletoft, who was most taken with Cruden's allround game.
"Cruden controlled the game superbly well," Mapletoft said, acknowledging his team were beaten by the better side.
Cruden's performance was a remainder of his burgeoning talents, which were silenced for a period last year when he was forced to take a break from the game to undergo a course of chemotherapy for testicular cancer.
While a clear standout in the Japanese capital yesterday, the 20-year-old is far from alone as being a talent seemingly destined for higher honours.
"Cruden is class but we have a lot of very good boys out there and everyone stood up today," New Zealand coach Dave Rennie said.
"I think you'll see a handful of these boys running around in 2011 (at the World Cup being staged in New Zealand)."
Cruden's efforts at the championship impressed the game's powerbrokers, and within minutes of tasting success on the field he was being feted off it when the International Rugby Board named him its junior player of the year.
He said he was ecstatic for his team.
"It is a fantastic feeling. The boys really stood up today. We needed to be physical against a very big England team and that's exactly what we did.
"We moved forward on both defence and attack. I'm just thoroughly proud of the boys."
The New Zealanders scored seven tries to England's three, with Hurricanes wing Zac Guildford also nabbing a double, his second after an incisive break by his captain.
They played an up-tempo game which the English could not match.
England were strong in the set piece and had quality backs in fullback Tom Homer and wing Charlie Sharples.
Outside of that, though, they were limited and pedestrian in comparison to the fleet footedness of Guildford, fullback Robbie Robinson and midfielders Winston Stanley and Shaun Treeby.
Cruden said those players shone because of the endeavours of their forwards, who negated the physical and technical superiority of the English.
"We actually identified that they didn't send too many numbers to the breakdown and that was an area we could exploit. Our forwards really stood up."