Pretender to throne Cruden out to unseat champion No 10 Carter
THE clash between Crusaders flyhalf Daniel Carter and his Chiefs counterpart Aaron Cruden could prove crucial in today’s Super Rugby semifinal but it may also have longerterm ramifications for the New Zealanders looking ahead to the 2015 World Cup.
The 31-year-old Carter has virtually owned the All Blacks’ No 10 jersey since 2004 and fended off all challengers on the way to establishing himself as one of the greatest flyhalves ever to play the game.
However, he has become what national coach Steve Hansen has described as a “red flag” athlete, whose workload will need to be managed ahead of the All Blacks’ World Cup defence in England, particularly as he sustains more frequent injuries.
The 24-year-old Cruden has been considered the pretender to Carter’s throne for a number of years but only really came into his own at the international level in the past 12 months, most notably against France last month.
The seven-time champion Crusaders enter the clash at Waikato Sta- dium as the form team of the competition, having thumped the Chiefs 43- 15 three weeks ago and then demolished the Queensland Reds 38-9 in the play-offs last week.
Given the struggle expected between the packs and the pressure he will come under from the All Black- laden Crusaders’ forwards, Cruden’s ability to impose himself on the game will be closely watched.
His kicking, game management and ability to attack the line and keep opposition defences guessing could make the difference today and see the Chiefs host next week’s final, but his performance should also gauge whether he is ready to succeed Carter sooner, rather than later.
Not that Cruden is focused on any of that.
“(For me, what is important) I just think is doing my role,” Cruden told the Waikato Times newspaper this week.
“That’s a major thing that we talk about in this team – if everyone does their own role then other guys aren’t having to worry too much about helping someone else out.
“I know what I have to go out and do as a first-five, as a driver of the team, so if I’m able to do that and execute that accurately then hopefully it will go a long way towards getting us the positive result.”
Carter, like the Crusaders, has been in superb form in the run into the play-offs and last week against the Reds he completely outplayed counterpart Quade Cooper, who has been recalled to the Wallabies squad by new coach Ewen McKenzie.
Carter’s runs at the Reds’ line created havoc as he was able to punch through the centres and set up players outside, or link with loose forwards running off his inside shoulder.
He also kicked three penalties, three conversions and scored a try.
Crusaders assistant coach Tabai Matson, a former All Black centre, said the coaching staff in Christchurch noticed Carter had stepped up his standard of play and loves to rise to the challenge.
“From match to match, Aaron Cruden is as good as anyone in New Zealand,” he told TVNZ yesterday.
“Dan Carter’s form has been outstanding (and) ... I suppose one of the things about Dan is that he lifts to the challenge and Aaron Cruden’s challenge is really high for him, so he’s lifting his game, which is fantastic.” – Reuters