Confident Aaron Cruden steps up for Carter
Careful planning and an in-form replacement has taken a lot of sting out of Dan Carter's dramatic withdrawal from the All Blacks.
There is logical cause for concern after Carter's Wellington curse struck again yesterday, a calf injury forcing him out of tomorrow night's Rugby Championship test against Argentina.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had already made five changes to the side that beat Australia 22-0 in Auckland before he lost his star first five-eighth.
Now Aaron Cruden will run the cutter and take the goal kicks in his first test start since that sparkling 24 minutes against Ireland in Hamilton on June 23.
Rust will be inevitable with just nine minutes against the Wallabies in Auckland in the five weeks since the Super Rugby final on August 4.
Suddenly the Pumas and their Kiwi trump card Graham Henry shape as a slightly more tricky opponent and their belief will have swelled at the news of Carter's misfortune.
But there was no sign of panic in the All Blacks camp where Cruden revealed he has been running at No 10 for most of the week.
"The medical staff made me aware early in the week he had a bit of a niggle, so when that happens you prepare like you could be starting," Cruden said after an intense training run at Rugby League Park last night.
"They gave him as long as they could but unfortunately for him the calf wasn't right this week. But with Dan on light duties it was good for me to get in there and run the cutter with a bit more time in the saddle.
"That's what you want as a player and it was great to be out there trying to boss the boys around.
"The good thing with this team is we are all told to prepare to play. Everyone needs to know the game plan, everyone needs to know what relates to them."
Hansen said Carter's withdrawal was a joint decision made after a routine Thursday "clarity session" in a nearby gym shortly after the side to play the Pumas had been announced.
"He wasn't comfortable and if you aren't comfortable it's a pretty easy decision when you have talent like we have to back him up," Hansen said.
"He's [Cruden] in good form, he's got a lot of confidence and the guys have a lot of confidence in him. We've anticipated it could have happened, he's [Carter] been a bit tight all week."
It's unclear how long Carter will be out, but he looked reasonably relaxed as he watched training yesterday on the same ground where he suffered the groin injury that ended his Rugby World Cup campaign nearly a year ago.
There will be curiosity at how big an effect the absence of such an influential player has on the All Blacks.
Hansen was confident it would be minimal. "They have their own strengths and weaknesses, but how we play the game is structured around the whole team not just the individual."
He said the coaches had planned for the possibility of losing Carter to the extent they had kept Taranaki's Beauden Barrett with the squad all week.
Cruden played with such confidence during the Chiefs campaign this season it is difficult not to feel he will handle the occasion.
He proved his composure when called up for last year's Rugby World Cup semifinal and final and will take stock from the familiar voices inside and out.
His Manawatu teammate Aaron Smith is at halfback and his old Hurricanes teammate Ma'a Nonu at second five-eighth.
The Dominion Post