Cruden finds his feet in All Black company
For many avid supporters of the All Blacks, one name comes to mind when asked ‘who was the best on ground on Sunday night?’ And strangely enough, it isn’t Cory Jane.
Instead it is rookie flyhalf Aaron Cruden, playing in his very first Rugby World Cup and even more impressively starting in his very first Rugby World Cup match.
Since Daniel Carter had to withdraw from the tournament because of a serious groin and back injury, New Zealanders have been forced to contemplate something unimaginable:
‘WHO WILL REPLACE DAN CARTER?’
Many names came into the equation including fellow squad member Colin Slade, Otago veteran and former All Black Tony Brown, and young Aaron Cruden.
Well in a shock to many, the New Zealand Rugby Union and their selectors decided to put faith in the young 22-year-old.
A member of the Wellington Hurricanes Super Rugby team, Cruden only made his debut for New Zealand late last year in the All Blacks’ tour of Europe, and has now been forced to step into the limelight.
If the intense gaze of the rugby world wasn’t enough, he had the expectations of four million placed squarely on his shoulders, along with the pressure of replacing arguably the best player in the world at the moment, Dan Carter.
To Cruden’s credit, he did not once complain and instead got down to business, but it would have been understandable if he thought it was too much.
Instead Cruden didn’t let the expectations get to him instead he just played his own game, and focused on things that he had control over, like his training and his temperament.
Coming into the important clash against trans-Tasman rivals Australia, international media focus was placed squarely at the inexperience of young Cruden and how he would handle being targeted by the Wallabies.
Sounds like a significant amount of pressure for someone who was only playing in his eight test match, but if you looked at him during the match, Cruden looked relaxed, if not a little smug.
From the kick-off it seemed evident that Cruden was right where he should be.
Making very few mistakes and breaking the line on one occasion, it actually seemed that Cruden had been a member of the All Blacks for slightly over a year.
But it is true and Cruden is only a baby in the side, but the All Blacks did not need to carry the young playmaker.
If anything he inspired the side to greater things in the game through excellent use of voice and sensation ability under pressure.
Cruden looked like he was the right choice to replace the mesmerising Daniel Carter, and I am sure if you asked anyone who watched Sunday’s game against the Wallabies, they will agree with this statement.
I am fairly confident if you asked Cruden at the start of the year if he would be a key player for New Zealand’s chances at the Rugby World Cup, he would have laughed you off.
But this is how reality is; it can gift you with moments you never expected.
However don’t think for a second that Cruden isn’t an outstanding player.
Already he has a swagger of awards that many other professional athletes would be very envious of including IRB junior player of the year 2009, and an IRB junior world championship title also in 2009.
Cruden hasn’t had an easy life, as you would think with his incredible skill, and at certain point in his life things would have looked a little hairy.
Not long after graduating from Palmerston Boys High School, Cruden was diagnosed with life threatening testicular cancer which had spread to his lungs.
He was diagnosed at only 19-years of age he was forced into more than two months of Chemotherapy.
The treatment was physically debilitating, but Cruden has fought his way back to both good health and the elite level of rugby.
He was viewed as an inspirational if not prodigal player, and now all New Zealanders will hope his amazing start to his international career continues to unfold and he becomes a legend of the game and a hero in All Blacks history.
But all I hope is that Cruden relishes and embraces the opportunity he has, and runs along with it all the way to the try line that is the end of his career.
And that is if the weekend was anything to go by, the end is a long, long way away.