Plenty of faith put in All Blacks back-ups

TOBY ROBSON IN CARDIFF
Last updated 05:00 25/11/2012
Aaron Cruden
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STEPPING UP: Aaron Cruden has been on standby for an injured Dan Carter.

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All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's unusual strategy of carrying three first five-eighths may be about to pay off.

With Dan Carter's Achilles injury placing him in serious doubt for this week's season finale at Twickenham, the presence of Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett has provided a warming comfort blanket in the northern winter.

Carter is a 50/50 chance to play England but it is questionable whether such a prized, long-term possession will be risked with a prolonged period of rest and rehabilitation in sight.

No doubt Carter wants to finish the season with the No 10 jersey on his back and leave English scribes grasping for superlatives once more, but the sensible option may be recovery.

Either way, there was a distinct lack of panic surrounding Carter's predicament yesterday.

That's because Hansen has faced similar scenarios at No 10 twice already this year. His contingency plans have been in place all season and have allowed Cruden and Barrett invaluable time to know their roles and study the playbook.

No one in world rugby can implement the moves and game-plan as seamlessly as Carter but it should be no surprise Hansen isn't spooked by the star's injury.

Rather, he sees this as another development opportunity. He has the faith and trust in Cruden, and Barrett, to thrive with a rare opportunity without the master.

"There's no point us getting worried about it because we can't control it. If Dan is right he will play against England; if he is not then we've got a really good back-up," Hansen told the Sunday Star-Times in Cardiff last night.

"Dan Carter is world-class and we know that but Cruden is a very capable five-eighth who is becoming world-class in his own right. As time goes on, he's going to be right up there.

"The disadvantage of not having Dan is going to be balanced by the fact Aaron Cruden is getting more game-time, getting more growth experience in the position. That will only make him better."

Barrett's inclusion for the majority of the All Blacks' season has also come up trumps. Taking three pivots to Argentina and South Africa was a unique move, one that may turn out to be a masterstroke if Barrett is thrown into a hostile test arena next week.

There are few doubts the laid-back Taranaki rookie would handle promotion off the bench in London.

Indeed, Carter's absence highlights Hansen's superior depth in the crucial No 10 role that international rivals envy.

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"You need experience and you need opportunities. While Dan is by far and away the best five-eighth in the world, the experience that Cruden and Beauden will get is invaluable. It will only help them," Hansen said.

"There is certainly a resurgence in five-eighth play in the country," he said, referring to Tom Taylor, Tim Bateman and Lima Sopoaga.

"There's a couple of good young boys back at home playing well that could easily fit into a lot of international sides so there's going to be some pressure on."

- Stuff

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