Clash of No 10 styles may decide semi spot

Last updated 18:28 18/07/2014
Aaron Cruden
CHARLOTTE CURD/Taranaki Daily
KEY MAN: Chiefs first five-eighth Aaron Cruden's battle with Brumbies counterpart Matt Toomua could prove crucial in tomorrow night's Super Rugby playoff match.

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Aaron Cruden and Matt Toomua bring contrasting styles to rugby's most influential position and the battle between the classic flyhalf and the modern midfield manager could decide tomorrow's Super Rugby playoff in Canberra.

Cruden at the Chiefs and Toomua at the Brumbies have both played key roles in rescuing their teams from setbacks and dragging them into the first-round of the playoffs for a re-run of last year's final.

A classic number 10, Cruden is a slender goal-kicking pivot who dictates play from the hand or boot and can carve his way through a fissure in the defensive line in the blink of an eye.

The beefier Toomua is an archetypical modern Australian playmaker, equally happy at flyhalf or as a hard-tackling inside centre and more likely to offload the ball to dangerous attacking players than make breaks himself.

Not that Toomua cannot take matters into his own hands, as he showed with his hat-trick of tries in the 47-25 rout of the Western Force last weekend that secured the Brumbies home advantage for tomorrow's clash.

It was a rampant display against a previously miserly defence that will give rugby fans in Australia's capital hopes the Brumbies can avenge the 27-22 defeat in Hamilton last year that gave the Chiefs their second successive title.

Cruden's most notable contribution of the season so far has probably been for the All Blacks, with his quickly taken penalty leading to the late try which killed off England's challenge in the first test of the June series.

Having struggled with the disruption of a broken thumb early in the Super Rugby season, Cruden improved as the series went on and returned from international duty to lead the Chiefs to wins in their last two games that got them into the playoffs.

The fractured digit meant he missed the 41-23 defeat the Chiefs suffered in Canberra in April - scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow was also absent - and the Chiefs will be a different proposition with their best halfbacks in tandem.

The prize on the line on Saturday is most likely to be a three-hour trip up the Hume Highway to face the New South Wales Waratahs in a Sydney semi-final - a prospect far more intimidating now than it has been for a good few years.

Toomua was injured for the Brumbies' 39-8 loss to the Waratahs at the end of June and he would surely relish the chance to face them again, if only to press his claim to retain the Wallabies number 12 shirt from the in-form Kurtley Beale.

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He admits Cruden has had the ''wood'' over him in their previous meetings after the All Blacks prevailed when they faced each other at flyhalf in the Rugby Championship two weeks after last year's Super Rugby final.

In at least one department, Cruden is bound to have more influence - good or bad - than Toomua.

The 25-year-old, who has a 68 per cent success rate from the tee this season, will undertake goal-kicking duties for the Chiefs, while Toomua is behind Christian Lealiifano, Nic White and Jesse Mogg in the list of preferred goalkickers.

- Reuters

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