Change of ball throws Aaron Cruden off stride
Aaron Cruden says it's taken him longer than he thought to adjust his Super Rugby kicking technique to suit the Adidas balls being used during the current test series against France.
The All Blacks first five eighth revealed today why his boot was so strangely out of sync during the 23-13 first test win at Eden Park where he struggled to time his punts and missed three shots at goal.
"They are different balls to what we use in Super Rugby, [going from] the Gilbert to Adidas, and its just taken me a little longer than I'd like to get used to the flight of the ball," the Chiefs pivot said after training at Linwood Rugby Club.
"I still haven't figured it out yet to be fair. They are a little bit softer so you have to really strike them pure and true. That's something kickers will go away and work on.
"They [Adidas] do seem to travel a little further and feel a lot sweeter off the foot, so we'll go away and work on that and hopefully I'll send a few over the black dot if I get the chance on Saturday."
It's not the first time a switch of balls has thrown a kicker off their stride. England's Jonny Wilkinson blamed Gilbert's balls for his poor goal kicking during the Rugby World Cup.
But Cruden made it clear he wasn't blaming the ball, which he rated highly, and said he expected a higher standard of execution with all aspects of his kicking game.
"We probably didn't put the French under enough pressure with our kicking game and when we did kick it was pretty poor," he said. "Me personally I was pretty disappointed so I suppose going away and working on those things.
"Mainly just the kicking, all round kicking, goal kicking it really wasn't good enough so I have to step it up if I get the opportunity this weekend."
Cruden has not kicked a lot of goals with the Chiefs this season with a record of 16 successes from 21 shots at goal, or 76 per cent.
"I haven't done a lot of goal kicking this year. I don't want to use that as an excuse. I just want to go away and work on one of my key roles which is kicking the ball," he said.
"It's early in the week so there are a few more days to get out and practice that and the whole game plan so we are ready for what the French are going to throw at us.
"It's mainly refining my technique. When I try to do too much [practice] I tend to go the other way and get worse, so it's just trusting my technique and getting back to what I was doing well last year and hopefully that will work for me."
One thing Cruden is keen to continue is having injured teammate Dan Carter as his tee-boy, a presence he said helped ease his nerves at Eden Park after two early misses.
"He was actually throwing out a bit of friendly banter as he ran the tee out. When I ended up getting my first kick over it was a bit wobbly and he said, 'mate, we'll take that all day', so it was just a friendly reminder and some positivity which was nice to hear."
Carter's presence as the incumbent did not add an extra pressure, he said.
"I don't feel it too much. I suppose the media and public see it that way, but for me I'm not Dan Carter, I'm not trying to be Dan Carter.
"I'm Aaron Cruden and I'm just trying to go out there and play my game to the best of my ability and do the jersey proud."
Always humble, Cruden said he wasn't sure if he'd start again in the second test, but is expected to again be preferred to Beauden Barrett with Dan Carter still out with a broken hand.
Whoever plays in the halves for the All Blacks will need to get their kicking boots out with Cruden hinting at a slightly more balanced approach in Christchurch.
"You never know what the winter is going to throw at you in New Zealand, so if it does get a little greasy or wet, I think being able to apply pressure through a kicking game is important for both sides."