Disrupted, but not rattled.
It speaks volumes of Aaron Cruden's standing that the loss of the world's best first five-eighth sent little more than a ripple through the All Blacks camp.
There is no doubt Dan Carter's withdrawal with a calf tear yesterday has further disrupted an All Blacks backline that has already been a moving feast in the build up to Saturday's Bledisloe Cup opener.
Uncertainty over Ma'a Nonu's ankle has eased with the dreadlocked second five-eighth running freely at Porirua Park yesterday.
But not before Francis Saili was trialled, injured, then replaced by Ryan Crotty, who may now find himself miraculously sitting among the reserves in Sydney.
Cruden's back up Beauden Barrett will now require some time in the driver's seat as the window of preparation narrows further for what is already a tricky test.
Those predicting Carter's immediate demise due to a calf strain that will keep him out for three weeks need their heads read.
Yes, the mercurial Canterbury pivot has had his share of injuries in recent years. It is part of the reason his 31-year-old frame needs the extended break he will take next year.
But to suggest the 95-test veteran has suddenly been surpassed by his understudy is stretching things.
What is no longer up for debate is Cruden's ability to win big matches, nor that he has the full backing of his peers.
"We are really fortunate that we have more than one world class five eighth," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
"Aaron has been on top of his game all season and has just going through two major [Super Rugby] matches with a lot of intensity and pressure.
"He's ready to rumble and he's also played a couple of tests this year so he understands what we're trying to do. He's part of the leadership group so its business as usual."
Hansen went as far as to say Carter's injury, while disappointing for the player, was "not a big deal to me".
International coaches the world over will blaze with jealousy, but it's difficult to argue with the sentiment.
In 2010 Cruden stumbled through an awkward first test start in Sydney where the All Blacks were lucky to escape with a 23-22 win.
Three years on he is in the midst of the best season of his career. He guided New Zealand to convincing wins over France, 23-13 in Auckland and 30-0 in Christchurch.
He was the GPS for the Chiefs second Super Rugby title, outplaying Carter in the semifinal and overcoming some kicking woes to emerge with credibility in the final.
If there is a remaining question about Cruden it may be his goal kicking, but his test record suggests it is a minor concern.
In 22 tests the 24-year-old has lost just once, to England last December, and in 10 starts he has yet to blot his copy book.
His performance against Wales in Cardiff last year was perhaps his best as he maneuvered the All Blacks in the most hostile of environments.
Senior centre Conrad Smith has watched Cruden evolve to the point he does not consider his presence at No 10 dissimilar to Carter's.
"You can notice some maturity about him so he slots in there pretty easily ... I don't notice too much difference," Smith said.
"He's a special player Dan and I've had the luxury of playing with him a lot. There are slight differences like any guys, the way they play the game, but nothing a week's training can't solve."
In fact, it is just now just three days excluding match day.
And Carter's withdrawal has a flow on effect to the make up of the All Blacks reserves bench where five forwards will be complemented by a halfback, first five-eighth and one other back.
Carter was to provide cover for Nonu at second five-eighth with Charles Piutau and Barrett probably competing for the final place on the bench.
Crotty is now the only member of the squad with any real experience at second five-eighth.
So as Carter heads home to Canterbury on Thursday, it would not surprise if Crotty was packing his bags for a weekend in Sydney.
Possible All Blacks squad: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty/Charles Piutau.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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