Watchful Irish know Cruden's no lightweight
Ireland's backroom staff have been poring over video footage of Aaron Cruden playing for the Chiefs ever since Dan Carter was invalided out of tonight's third test against the All Blacks in Hamilton.
Carter was a key man for the All Blacks in both their runaway first-test victory at Eden Park and their last-ditch win in the second test in Christchurch.
But if Irish assistant coach Les Kiss is to be believed the Irish are not assuming the diminutive Cruden will provide a soft target for their attack in the absence of the more physical Carter, who is 9kg heavier.
And they are also wary of the nuances Cruden brings to the All Blacks' attacking game, particularly with his well-grooved combination with fellow Chiefs five-eighth Sonny Bill Williams.
"He's won a World Cup with them, hasn't he," said Kiss, a defensive specialist. "He's a dangerous proposition.
"When you look at Cruden closely he's a slippery character. He'll do some of the things that Carter will do but he's got his own little touches and if you don't get hold of him early he can certainly carve you up.
"We've got to make sure we close the space around him effectively."
The key in defending Cruden was just how much space they decided to give him.
Kiss said he expected some slight variations from the All Blacks on attack this week just by virtue of the number of personnel changes to the team, particularly with Cruden expected to "pull the strings" a little differently to Carter.
"It does enhance some parts of their game when you think he works with Sonny Bill [Williams] on a week-in, week-out basis at the Chiefs and he's got two of the back row that he works with there on a weekly basis as well.
"So there's some familiarity there for him and by virtue of that I think there will be some shifts in how they do play the game," he said.
Ireland already had a video profile on Cruden from this year's Chiefs games and that was dusted off once the 23-year-old was named to start at Waikato Stadium with Carter sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Defence was a major factor in Ireland's strong second-test performance and Kiss said a lot of that and their physicality had been down to doing all the basics well, but they expected the smarting All Blacks to rebound from that.
As far as Cruden's defence is concerned, Kiss was adamant it should not be underestimated.
"If he gets the right type of environment offered him he's a handy little legs tackler. He can chop the legs underneath and open up opportunities for the back row to get on the ball so if we're going to go down that channel we've got to make sure we go down there in the right fashion and don't give him easy marks on the ball on the ground," Kiss said.
Ireland are also expecting some changes to the All Blacks' kickoffs in the third test with the introduction of Cruden.
The men in green had their hands full coping with Dan Carter's low trajectory restarts that No8 Kieran Read contested to great effect in the first two tests.
McFadden expected All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw to pick up from Read in the role of chasing the kicks.
But whether Cruden is able to come up with his own version of the flat kickoff, going to the opposite side of the field, or other variations remains to be seen.
Either way, McFadden said, the Irish would be ready.
All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Richie McCaw (c), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Res: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Tamati Ellison.
Ireland: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O'Driscoll, Paddy Wallace, Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien, Kevin McLaughlin, Donnacha Ryan, Dan Tuohy, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Cian Healy. Res: Sean Cronin, Declan Fitzpatrick, Donncha O'Callaghan, Chris Henry, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O'Gara, Andrew Trimble. Referee: Romain Poite (France). Kickoff: 7.35 tonight at Waikato Stadium.