Aaron Cruden struck a dejected figure on what was supposed to be the night of his life.
The young first five eighth had started his first test and the All Blacks had won. September 11, 2010 was everything Cruden had dreamed of, and yet, in many ways it became more akin to a rugby nightmare.
Instead of being heralded as Dan Carter's successor, Cruden was criticised in the aftermath. Too small, can't kick, not ready for test rugby were among the barbs.
Colin Slade, who played the final 19 minutes was held up as the future test No 10 despite the fact it was the physicality of blindside Jerome Kaino that turned the match.
Cruden fronted the media that night, shoulders hunched, his left ankle encased in ice. But what stuck in the memory was his refusal to make a single excuse telling media nerves had got the better of him on the night.
Those present saw him clearly hobbled by injury in the opening exchanges, as he struggled in back play to even walk for some time before rejoining the fray. He would be out of all rugby for the next two weeks.
That sums up Cruden. He's 85kg dripping wet, but tough as nails. Just as he overcame cancer, he has overcome that ill-fated first test start to return stronger and more resilient.
''It wasn't the way I wanted my starting career in the black jersey to pan out, but looking back at that game it's made me a better player,'' Cruden said ahead of his first return to ANZ Stadium since his debut.
''I've been able to bounce back from that and grow and mature as a player. I'm really comfortable in this environment now, I know exactly what I have to go and do.''
A lot has changed in the three years since his debut test season including a career defining move from the Hurricanes to the Chiefs. On the field, Cruden has learned he doesn't have to do everything himself.
It's a common pitfall for young first five-eighths, who in trying to run, pass, kick and tackle in equal portions lose track of what's actually unfolding.
At the Chiefs, Cruden has learned the art of sitting back and getting a feel for the tempo, finding the space and asserting his influence at the appropriate time. The influence of mentor Dave Rennie cannot be understated.
''Looking back that was one of the toughest decisions of my career leaving the Hurricanes,'' Cruden said. ''I'm a pretty loyal person and when Dave first rung me and asked if I'd be interested in moving to Hamilton, I initially said no.
''I sat on it for a few weeks and it probably has turned out to be a really good move for me personally. It's helped me develop and grow as a person.
''I put that down to Rens and the coaching staff he's put together at the Chiefs. I know as a coach Rens gets the best out of his players and seems to have a way of helping their game grow. For me that was massive.
''I think I was able to make those transition into the black jersey as well.
''When I first came into the team [All Blacks] a few years ago I thought I had to do extra. I thought I had to change my game and since I've been in the team a little longer, I've come to realise you don't have to change much at all.''
The other person Cruden came into regular contact with at the Chiefs was the man who played outside him during their run to the 2012 Super Rugby title.
''To get a full season to play with Sonny [Bill Williams] last season, that really helped my confidence levels and a lot of other people around him too,'' Cruden said.
''If he reads this he should come back. Come back Sonny! But we'll leave that for another day.
''If you are able to surround yourself with quality players it helps your game grow. Not just quality players, but quality people.''
Confidence is rugby's magic potion. It flows through to all facets and it was remarkable how Cruden's punting and goal kicking went to a new level after his move to the Chiefs.
The All Blacks aren't quite his team yet, but going into his 23rd test he's become closer to Dan Carter's reflection than his shadow. If there is a lingering question mark it is over Cruden's goal kicking.
An early season injury saw Gareth Anscombe man the kicking tee for most of the Chiefs season. Cruden's been working hard with All Blacks skills coach Mick Byrne who noticed he'd become too square in his approach.
But he struggled during the Super Rugby final against the Brumbies and was still mistiming the odd kick practice this week.
Then again, who'd bet against a bloke who has won a World Cup final, two Super Rugby titles and all ten of the tests he's started including that difficult night in Sydney.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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