Classy Aaron Cruden delivers with authority

Last updated 05:00 26/11/2012
Aaron Cruden
PUNCHING ABOVE HIS WEIGHT: Aaron Cruden of the All Blacks lines up a conversion during the international match between Wales and New Zealand.

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The most complete All Black performance in Cardiff yesterday came from a young man who spent most of the week figuring he would have a bit-part to play at best.

OPINION: Instead, Aaron Cruden delivered a timely reminder of his class that would have been heartening for all those feeling a little anxious about the continuing injury issues of Daniel Carter.

Given he came in late in a situation not dissimilar to his first test start in Sydney two years ago, there was much to admire about the response of Cruden in trying circumstances.

This was a big moment in a pretty hostile environment - and he fronted with maturity and composure. He led the team around the park, slotted his goals, his kicking out of hand was very good and he tackled everything that came down his channel.

Apart from that sizzling cameo in Hamilton, this was his best performance in the All Black jersey and a real step forward in the young man's development.

The other individual who took my eye was Julian Savea.

I made a big deal in the commentary about his nice pass to set up Luke Romano's try because that piece of skill summed up the advances the young wing has made.

He had put in a goose-step and had the skill to run through the hole with the ball in two hands.

Sometimes young wings instinctively tuck the ball under their elbow in tight. But by holding it in two hands he was able to set up Romano expertly.

It's hard not to be impressed by Savea's continued development and the best thing is he looks like he's learning from game to game.

Liam Messam was a physical presence in the loose trio, to the point he outshone Kieran Read; Richie McCaw again was outstanding; and Romano did a lot of good things.

Owen Franks was also excellent after a few quiet tests.

Andrew Hore had a very good match, though it's the swinging arm with which he collected Welsh lock Bradley Davies early on that will no doubt be what he's remembered for.

It was hard to tell how bad it was but he did get him from behind and it looked high. In comparison to Adam Thomson's situation, it doesn't look good.

Thomson's act was passive and there was no injury, whereas Davies was basically unconscious. There's a marked difference.

I wouldn't be surprised if there was a call put in to Hika Elliot after the game.

Given Keven Mealamu's uncertain status, Elliot's services may be needed this week.

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The Welsh tried to be innovative and less predictable but they also made mistakes, and that enabled the All Blacks to get into the game and get the scoreboard ticking over.

It was noticeable about 15 minutes into the first half when the All Blacks hit their straps and blew the Welsh away. They smashed them at the breakdowns, were physically strong at the tackle and were as robust as ever on defence.

Wales threw some big runners down the channels but they got knocked over every time.

The All Blacks had the game in the bag at halftime and were much better in all facets. The final scoreline flattered the Welsh.

There were moments of brilliance and others where it wasn't quite working. The defence was good, though they'll be annoyed that they've leaked a few tries on this tour. What's noticeable is that when they really don't want the opposition to score, they go up a level.

The All Blacks have been easily the most impressive of all the teams up here. France have performed well, the Aussies have bounced back after that poor first result and South Africa will be pleased with how they've gone considering the players they're missing.

But the All Blacks are operating at a level above everyone else and England's going to find that out next.

It's a love-hate thing here. We love going to Twickenham and we hate losing there.

As an All Black you're always determined you're going to win at Twickenham, particularly when you're sending off your inspirational captain for a six-month sabbatical and trying to finish your year unbeaten.

- Wellington


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