New Zealand v Australia, Rugby World Cup Semi-Final, October 16
All Blacks have faith in Cruden
ESPNscrum Staff
October 15, 2011
All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden claims the ball in training, New Zealand training session, Trusts Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand, October 12, 2011
Cruden has been charged with steering the All Blacks into the Rugby World Cup Final © Getty Images

All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden has been backed to handle the pressure of his side's Rugby World Cup semi-final showdown with Australia at Eden Park on Sunday night.

The 22-year-old Cruden will take the All Blacks' reins for their biggest game since the 2003 World Cup semi-finals following injuries to first-choice No.10 Dan Carter and his initial replacement Colin Slade. A late addition to the squad in the wake of Carter's injury two weeks ago, he has started just one game in his seven Test career while his appearance off the bench during New Zealand's quarter-final victory over Argentina was his first in over a year.

However, assistant coach Wayne Smith and captain Richie McCaw haven been impressed by his work in training and are convinced he will hold his own in the heat of what will be an intense battle. "I think he has done remarkably well," said Smith. "To think that a just a couple of weeks ago he was falling off his skateboard then he comes in for a quarter-final at the Rugby World Cup. Another week under the belt will have been good for him. The players have been great and you can really see the belief they have in Aaron and I am sure he will go out and have a great game."

Cruden's confidence has caught the eye of McCaw who believes that the youngster's time on the fringes of the squad will ensure he makes the most of this opportunity to steer the All Blacks into their first World Cup final since 1995. "Sometimes when it is taken away from you, you realise how much you miss it," noted McCaw, who also shrugged off concerns about his long-standing foot injury. "And from what I've seen he is excited to be back. He realises how special it is to be part of the All Blacks and he wants to take his chance. If you had looked at him during the last week it would have seemed he had been here for a while and he wants to go out and perform."

McCaw is wary of the need to offer the relatively inexperienced Cruden a guiding hand but has demanded that he brings his best game. "It's a case of helping him at the right time without doing it for him," explained McCaw. "At 10 you technically run the game and you need confidence to be able to so. It's just a case of the guys beside him like Ma'a [Nonu] helping him. Wearing that jersey he needs to dictate what happens and he wants to do that so that's great."

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