If Steve Hansen is right Aaron Cruden will arrive in London today well rested and pumped full of confidence.
Cruden got rave reviews from his coaches after Sunday's 33-10 win over Wales where he added another string to his test match bow.
Running has always been the Manawatu pivot's strong suit, but at Millennium Stadium he produced a pin-point kicking game in the first half to keep his dominant forward pack moving in the right direction.
"Outstanding," Hansen said when asked for his assessment of Dan Carter's late replacement. "I thought he drove us around the park, for the first 60 minutes really well.
"His kicking game, a couple of years ago he didn't have one and today he was pinpoint, and his goal kicking, I don't think he missed a kick did he?"
Cruden nailed all seven of his shots at goal for a personal haul of 18 points in a Carter-like display.
It was notable too, that Cruden brought Ma'a Nonu's physicality into the game early, something that provided valuable go-forward ball.
And that after the 23-year-old left the field, the ship began to wobble as the backs collectively kicked away too much possession.
"You can't ask for any more than that," Hansen said. "Here's a guy who got dropped in there on Thursday. He's got to be proud of how he prepared. You don't get performances like that unless you are preparing to play the whole time.
"He should put his head on the pillow tonight a happy bloke."
Most happy perhaps that he had started two tests in a row and had the chance to build on a rusty performance against Italy in Rome.
Cruden acknowledged as much, though he graciously suggested he hoped Carter, whose Achilles is a 50-50 prospect, would be fit to play against England.
Tactically, Wales represented a big step for Cruden, whose boot found its range and accuracy early. There was a 60 metre clearing kick from his line, a perfect up and under for Conrad Smith to retrieve and a clever cross kick over Alex Cuthbert's head.
"That was a focus for us," Cruden said. "We knew Wales would start the game with a lot of passion and if we could turn them around we could frustrate them and I think that worked for us . That's probably an area of my game I've tried to work on and will continue to."
After 19 tests, but just eight starts, Cruden said he had learned to prepare as though he was playing regardless of whether he was named on the bench.
But he admitted it was a good feeling to play consecutive tests and to gauge his improvement, something he put down to worrying less about making mistakes then early in his test career.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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