Aaron Cruden sidelined by broken thumb

MARC HINTON
Last updated 11:18 07/04/2014
Aaron Cruden
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ
INJURED: Aaron Cruden will be sidelined for up to two months by a broken thumb.

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The Chiefs will back themselves to cover for Aaron Cruden's broken thumb over the next six to eight weeks of Super Rugby - it's the All Blacks who might be feeling a little more nervous about the playmaker's untimely injury.

The Chiefs announced today that their 25-year-old, 29-test first five-eighths had broken his thumb during Sunday's dramatic 43-43 draw with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

The franchise said the typical recovery time was six to eight weeks for such an injury, which would put Cruden's return somewhere between the middle of May and start of June.

That will rule the in-form No 10 and Chiefs co-captain out of a big chunk of the Super Rugby competition, with a chance he may not be fit until the final three rounds of the regular season that follow the June test window.

But in Gareth Anscombe, Andrew Horrell and, at a pinch, Tim Nanai-Williams the Chiefs still have plenty of options. Anscombe is the chief contender to step in at No 10 for Saturday's clash against the Melbourne Rebels in Hamilton.

They have also had Hawke's Bay five-eighth Ihaia West around as injury cover, and may look to him again.

Robbie Robinson would have been another capable of filling in at No 10, but the Southlander's ongoing hip problems are likely to remover him from consideration.

The Chiefs pride themselves on the depth of their squad and their ability to cover for injuries through a campaign, and if any franchise can handle the loss of a player as influential as Cruden, it's the back-to-back champions from Hamilton.

It could be All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is more concerned by Cruden's absence, especially if it stretches out to the two-month mark.

The All Blacks face England on June 7, 14 and 21 and with Dan Carter already absent as he finishes off his extended break, Hansen would have been relying on Cruden's presence to face Stuart Lancaster's side.

If Cruden was not able to prove his fitness ahead of the June series, a lot of onus would fall on Beauden Barrett of the Hurricanes to run the cutter against the English.

The Canes playmaker has also been in excellent form this season, but has only started two of his 16 tests and has been used almost exclusively by Hansen as an impact man off the bench.

Should Cruden be ruled out and Barrett step into the starting role, it would be interesting to see who Hansen would turn to as backup at five-eighth. Tom Taylor would be next cab off the rank based on last year's test season, but the young Crusader has struggled for top form so far this Super Rugby season.

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Colin Slade has emerged as the preferred No 10 option at the Crusaders. Lima Sopoaga has been playing well at first five for the Highlanders, while the Blues' Simon Hickey would be considered too inexperienced for international football at this stage of his career.

The Chiefs are top of the New Zealand conference and fourth overall on 20 points after collecting six points via two high-scoring draws in South Africa. But they haven't won a match since the March 14 36-20 victory over the Stormers and coach Dave Rennie will be anxious to correct that back at Waikato Stadium on Saturday night.

- Stuff

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