New Zealand v Australia, Rugby World Cup, October 16
Cruden primed to make amends
October 14, 2011
All eyes are on Aaron Cruden ahead of Sunday's clash with Australia © Getty Images
Aaron Cruden freely admits that Sunday's Rugby World Cup semi-final showdown with Australia is the biggest game of his life - but New Zealand's 'third-choice' fly-half is confident that he will be able to handle the pressure.
Cruden was a late addition to the All Blacks squad having been left out of the original panel but he will wear the No.10 jersey in Auckland due to the injury-enforced absences of Dan Carter and Colin Slade.
"It's definitely the biggest game of my life and a huge challenge that I'm really looking forward to and I know all the boys are," the 22-year-old Cruden said.
"Against Australia, it's always an epic battle and you chuck a semi-final into the mix and it's huge. I will definitely be [nervous] closer to kick-off time, I think that's only natural.
"But at the moment I'm just taking it all in, the semi-finals of a World Cup, it doesn't get much bigger than this. I'm trying to be nice and relaxed, you keep around good company, guys that make you laugh and stay focused."
Cruden has been capped seven times by his country but his only previous start came, coincidentally, against Australia in Sydney in September of last year. He performed poorly, failing to register a single point before being hauled off on 59 minutes with the All Blacks trailing 22-9. Slade came on in his place and prompted a stirring fightback which saw New Zealand run out 23-22 winners. Cruden was relieved that the All Blacks had prevailed in the end but the fact that the turnaround had occurred while he was off the field only deepened his disappointment on a personal level.
However, he claims that the learned from the experience and is a very different player to the one which took to the field in Sydney just over 12 months ago.
"I'd like to think (I've grown) quite a bit. Back then I was feeling nervous and put a lot of pressure on myself, but coming in this time the boys have really got behind me," he said.
"I will just go out there and be Aaron Cruden and express myself and play my natural game, that's something I'll be looking to do on Sunday."
There has already been a suggestion that the Wallabies will look to target Cruden on Sunday on account of his relative inexperience at this level but he is unperturbed by the prospect of receiving extra attention.
"The more you're involved in the game the more you're able to grow in confidence," he said. "I suppose if they are going to target me then it'll give me more of a chance to be involved in the game and grow my confidence and become more comfortable out there."
Indeed, All Blacks head coach Graham Henry is in no doubt that Cruden has the temperament to cope with everything the Wallabies throw at him.
"Last week he was skateboarding round Palmerston North, having a couple of beers and watching us play. Now he's the top number 10 in the country. It's a big challenge," the former Wales boss said.
"We did get the job last year in Sydney and in Cruden's case he's a year or so older and a lot more experienced and I think that's important.
"I think you learn from those experiences. That was probably his first big Test match and he's learnt from that experience.
"This is the biggest game he's ever played in and the biggest a lot of them have played in. I'm sure it's challenging, but he seems to be handling it well."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.