Snook: Loss of Cruden huge setback for Chiefs

INJURED: Aaron Cruden will be sidelined for up to two months by a broken thumb.
INJURED: Aaron Cruden will be sidelined for up to two months by a broken thumb.

Don't be fooled. The Chiefs will miss Aaron Cruden big time over the next six weeks.

Already a veteran of 29 tests and 66 Super Rugby games, Cruden sits in category ‘C' in the all-time first five-eighth classification.

The category ‘A' list flows off the tongue just as the great performers in all walks of life stand out. Led by Mark Ella, the list includes Hugo Porta, Barry John, Dan Carter and sneaking in would be the likes of Phil Bennett, Naas Botha, Jonny Wilkinson, Michael Lynagh, Andrew Mehrtens, Stephen Larkham and perhaps Grant Fox, just.

These are the guys who are quick thinking, tactically clever, decisive, calm, and highly skilled in their role. The best teams tend to possess the best No 10s.

Ever since the inception of Super Rugby, the winning sides have contained an ‘A' or ‘B' category player, or at least a healthy ‘C' type.

Carlos Spencer, probably a really good ‘C' but on his day heading towards a ‘B+' led the Blues to three championships, with Mehrtens and Larkham the dominant figures in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Carter has clocked up three titles. If you are South African you'd say Morne Steyn was a good ‘C', just as Australians would be pushing Quade Cooper in to that category. You can't have an average player steering your ship if you want to be out the front.

Cruden's stature has grown immensely since moving to the Chiefs under Dave Rennie and category ‘B' player Wayne Smith, now a category ‘A' coach, where he has neatly tucked a couple of titles under his belt.

To suggest Gareth Anscombe, with 26 Super Rugby caps, mainly at fullback, or Andrew Horrell, with 25 caps, mainly in the midfield, or Tim Nanai-Williams, who is listed as a back three player, will fill the gap is easy to say. It won't happen that easily.

The No 10 is the player who creates the vibe and the flow of a team. To make a change is a bit like replacing your Rolls-Royce with a Toyota Harrier. It's good but not real good.

Which makes one wonder why the Crusaders have not decided on their pivotal player so far into the season. Instead, they are continually tossing up between Tom Taylor, Tyler Bleyendaal and Colin Slade.

None of these players have hit category ‘C', but surely the selection group must know which one is most likely to head there in time and which one suits best what they are trying to achieve.

The Blues will also be wondering why on earth they didn't throw Benji Marshall in the deep end and put him in the crucial jersey from day one. They have discovered a handy player in Simon Hickey, but in Chris Noakes and Baden Kerr they have useful national provincial championship players and not men who will lead them to a title.

John Kirwan may be a trend- setter in the clothing stakes, and he has a lot of charisma in the environment, but when it has come to sticking his credibility on the line, he has not manned up and taken the punt.

Marshall could have been the talk of the town by now and he certainly wouldn't have made things worse than what they are.

Just imagine if he was jinking and jiving, throwing long passes, hitting holes and kicking when he had to. Those Blues boys could be on fire!

For the Chiefs, it will be all hands on deck to muscle and think their way through the next six weeks. They can do it, but it will be a lot tougher.

Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.

Taranaki Daily News