England pumped, All Blacks ready to run ball

Last updated 05:00 06/06/2014
Aaron Cruden
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PLAYMAKER: All Black Aaron Cruden will start at No 10 against England tomorrow night.

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As England pumped up their biceps with a weights session before training, the All Blacks unveiled a side that will be steered and guided by speed and guile.

Aaron Cruden and Aaron Smith are men small in stature, but big in influence.

After weeks of debate, Cruden eased past form-horse Beauden Barrett to grab the all-important All Blacks No 10 spot for tomorrow's first test against England.

There were compelling reasons for coach Steve Hansen to start with Barrett. He would have been the people's choice after lighting up Super Rugby for weeks as Cruden fumbled back from a broken thumb.

Barrett will likely get a chance in coming weeks to add to his case, possibly during the second half at Eden Park when he could be paired with Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara on test debut.

But first it will be the job of the two Aarons to crank the All Black machine into life and, if all goes to plan, through any first-test rust and quickly up to the levels of 2013.

Hansen has decided it would be folly to tinker too much with his rudder with Smith and Cruden starting seven of last year's 14 tests.

The pair has a bond that goes back to childhood in the Manawatu and a partnership that has started in 11 tests for as many wins.

"From the start in the ABs I always had Crudes there," Smith said yesterday. "He was someone I could just mirror because he was in all the same meetings.

"Because we've played a lot of rugby together he's not afraid to give me feedback, which is really good, and I'm not scared to get on him. We don't have too many of those chats anymore."

In other words, the All Blacks halves have an unspoken understanding of each other's games that, when on song, can leave opponents grasping and gasping.

"I have the simple job of running as fast as I can to everything and then it's just listening and, let's go," Smith said. "It's that controlled fury as I like to call it, just trying to be as fast as I can, but still being in sync and knowing where everyone is.

"That's a big part of our game, but there's no point in me going fast if no-one else is moving and reloading. Everyone has to be at the same tempo and if we are all moving at the same pace it can be quite beautiful to watch, but if you get it wrong it can look a bit ugly as well."

For the Chiefs and Highlanders respectively, Cruden and Smith seem to be in perpetual motion when their teams are travelling well. Smith admires such qualities even when they're executed by the opposition.

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"It's something everyone should strive for. That's the beauty of rugby, it can be quite fast and sometimes when you are defending and you think, ‘Shit, they're going good here, they've got a good flow on'," he said. "I enjoy when you see up-tempo rugby, played well and even in the wet, if it's done right it's still impressive."

England might not agree. They have come from a northern winter and a brutal, but undeniably slower, game in the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup.

Much has been made of the brute force return of Jerome Kaino at No 8, but it will be the All Blacks halves' ability to shift the point of attack at pace that keeps England coach Stuart Lancaster up nights this week.

- The Dominion Post

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