Aaron Cruden didn't get on the field for the All Blacks in their hard-fought second-test victory over Ireland last weekend, but he backs himself to kick the winning dropped goal if called upon.
Cruden, 23, had to watch from the bench at Christchurch's AMI Stadium as Dan Carter stayed on for the entire match in the pivot spot and dropped the winning goal in the last minute.
Cruden continued to practise his dropped goals at training but said it was often the "luck of the draw" whether a player got the opportunity to try one in a match and whether they were successful.
Cruden has started in nine tests in the All Blacks' first five-eighth spot and kicked a dropped goal in the World Cup semifinal against Australia when Carter was sidelined by injury – finally confirming him as the heir apparent.
Add to that a strengthened confidence from wearing the No10 jersey in every match this season for the Super Rugby-leading Chiefs and it is clear the Manawatu player is ready to play a key role if, for any reason, Carter is injured or rested.
The diminutive Cruden has made big advances with his kicking game and defence, which add to his natural running game.
He has made Hamilton his second home since joining the Chiefs and loves playing at Waikato Stadium – the venue for this Saturday night's third and final test against Ireland.
"It's been fantastic [in Hamilton]," said Cruden. "The Chiefs are going really well and I've been able to feed off the performances there.
"If I'm called upon here then I'll just be looking to play my natural game, which is the reason I'm in this team.
"It would be pretty exciting if I'm called upon to get a run here at Waikato Stadium seeing as I'm playing my Super Rugby here but we're just focusing on getting the attitude right and building up for a big game this weekend."
Cruden said while it was disappointing not to get on the field at AMI Stadium last weekend, backs coach Ian Foster afterwards explained why.
"He said the way that the game was going, it was pretty tense there and they didn't want to make too many changes," Cruden said.
"As a player you understand that and you've just got to do your bit if you're called upon and, if not, you just support the team wholeheartedly."
While Cruden has to wait in line behind Carter – generally regarded as the world's best first-five – his Manawatu partner in a successful 9-10 pairing, Aaron Smith, has been able to leapfrog the competition and grab a starting spot.
"He's going great," said Cruden. "As a halfback he's always running around joking and a few of the boys get annoyed hearing his voice so often but he's playing really well."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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