Rugby: Cruden steps up against Wales

Aaron Cruden
Aaron Cruden
Daniel who?

It was not quite like that at Cardiff today as the All Blacks played without their premier five eighths Daniel Carter who is troubled by a lower leg injury.

However, replacement pivot Aaron Cruden showed what a nifty and gritty performer he is with an all round display which kept the All Blacks on track and the heat on Wales.

A week ago Cruden produced a mixed offering like many of his team-mates in a mixed offering against Italy.

Coach Steve Hansen was undeterred and kept the young five eighths on the field for the entire test. He reasoned the young five eighths needed the work and subbing him would dent his confidence.

That decision was fruitful in the final quarter as Cruden and the All Blacks found a rhythm which had been missing for large chunks of the test and ran in some late tries.

In private, Hansen was delighted that Cruden had found his touch and worked his way through some difficult patches. Those moments would be gold in the future for the young five eighths and the team.

That proved very prophetic as that future became today when Cruden stepped out for his 19th test yet only his 8th start because of Carter's latest leg injury.

Five successful shots at goal from all round the Millennium Stadium, right and left foot bombs, punts and tactical kicks, some searching runs and gritty defence was a huge first half collect from Cruden.

By contrast his opposite Rhys Priestland had fluffed several attacking kicks for the line and looked less assured than his All Black counterpart.

He needed to be. Carter's defection was a blow to the All Blacks who were determined to wipe some of the World Cup smugness which had oozed out of Wales suggesting they would have nudged the All Blacks if they got the chance.

They got that today and were deposited heavily on their backsides by a New Zealand side bereft of Carter.

However Wales will know the name Cruden today as much as they know the legend of Carter. In future, maybe the 72,372 crowd will be able to say they were there the day they saw another legend begin.

It was a rare start as Cruden has watched and learned about the magic Carter brings to the game. He is being chased hard by Beauden Barrett, another young five eighths who brings a different type of game with his skills.

Cruden needed to make a statement for himself and his team, not in that order but it needed to happen.

The crowd applauded the All Blacks throughout as they produced some glorious sections of rugby. Welsh great Barry John was one of them and his applause for Cruden was an indication of the young man's production.

His game management and decisions were strong, his goal kicking faultless and his temperament unbroken until he was subbed with about 12 minutes left.

Carter's injury exit is only temporary but if he is unavailable next week against England, the All Blacks have a man in form to take on Twickenham.

- By Wynne Gray in Cardiff