New Zealand Rugby
Newcomers delight in All Blacks call-up
May 30, 2010
New Zealand coach Graham Henry welcomes newcomer Benson Stanley following his inclusion in the All Blacks squad © Getty Images
Aaron Cruden's meteoric rise to the All Blacks has been applauded by his provincial rugby coach.
Manawatu coach Dave Rennie backs the promotion of the 21-year-old fly-half for Tests next month against Ireland and Wales, insisting his selection for the All Blacks was always a distinct possibility. Cruden is coming off his maiden campaign with the Hurricanes in the Super 14 competition, but Rennie reckons he already has the goods for test rugby.
"I'm not surprised that he's made it," Rennie told NZPA today after Cruden was one of four newcomers named in the All Blacks' 26-man squad. "I think it was always a matter of when. There had already been talk about what would be best for him in regards to whether he was brought in now by the All Blacks selectors or may be play him in the Maori side, have another NPC season and take him on the end-of-year tour. They're obviously looking ahead to the World Cup next year and the quicker they get him in the environment the quicker he will develop."
Cruden was eased into the Super 14 this year, with Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper using him off the bench for the early rounds before he gained a regular starting spot ahead of Willie Wipia as the season progressed. Today's selection caps a stunning rise for Cruden, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2008. He had one testicle removed and underwent nine weeks of chemotherapy before being medically cleared.
Last year he was in stunning form as he captained New Zealand to the world under-20 title, and picked up the International Rugby Board's junior player of the year award. Now, he finds himself as the understudy to Dan Carter in an All Blacks team to play Ireland at New Plymouth on June 12 ahead of two Tests against Wales at Dunedin and Hamilton.
"He's a very mature player for his age. He's very mentally strong and he's a constant threat with ball in hand," added Rennie. "Because of that you've got to organise your defence around him because he creates space as well. He adds another dimension to attack.
"He's also got a good enough kicking game. He wasn't given a lot of responsibility in that regard for the Hurricanes but hopefully within the All Blacks environment he will get a lot of opportunity and assistance to show that he can dictate a game with his boot as well. He is a good punter of the ball and one thing with Aaron is that he is a hard worker. He's very tough on himself so he will be keen to listen and learn."
Hawke's Bay fullback Israel Dagg had absolutely no expectations of making the squad despite strong and consistent form for a poor Highlanders team in this year's Super 14 competition. "I didn't think anything about it. I thought I'd have to wait my turn, but obviously it's come. I couldn't believe it. Everyone was yahooing and everything. I had my hoodie up and was trying to stay grounded. I'm over the moon and it still hasn't hit me yet. It is a very special moment and one I will cherish for a long time."
Dagg has showcased his silky running skills for the past two seasons with the Highlanders and he thinks he broadened his game this year when he took on the goalkicking duties. "I was reasonably happy with my form, and I was pretty happy with the role I took on with the goalkicking. It was a good opportunity."
He faces quality opposition in Mils Muliaina and Cory Jane for the No 15 jersey and knows he may have to bide his time and hope for a start off the reserves bench. "It's going to be tough but if my opportunity comes I will step up and do my best. I just have to go into camp and work hard, stay grounded and try and get a Test jersey."
Fellow newcomer Victor Vito knows the competition will be intense as he looks to build on his selection. The Wellingtonian is one of five loose forwards in the 26-man squad alongside captain Richie McCaw, Adam Thomson, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read, all players of such quality that Vito knows it will be a battle just to gain a starting spot.
"To be in the company of those four is pretty daunting," the former New Zealand under-19 captain said. "It's one thing to be named. It's pretty nervous waiting for your name to be read out but once you're named you're nervous as well because you know you have to prove yourself now. "The pressure is always on but that is why we're playing the game."
New cap Benson Stanley is "stoked" at his inclusion but acknowledges that injuries played a part in his call-up to the test rugby squad today. "I wouldn't have thought I would be here in my wildest dreams," he said. "I don't think the All Blacks coaches would have either at the start of the season, but as things have worked out, just about every man and his dog has fallen over and it's really been like a war of attrition. It was like last man standing out there."
Among those on the casualty list are first-choice second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu, while another option, Luke McAlister, was deemed not to have had sufficient game time and was chosen instead for New Zealand Maori. "I'm thankful they put a little bit of faith in me," Stanley said. "I guess they had to put their faith in someone."
All Blacks squad for Tests against Ireland at New Plymouth on June 12 and Wales at Dunedin and Hamilton on June 19 and 26:-
Anthony Boric (North Harbour), Dan Carter (Canterbury), Jimmy Cowan (Southland), Aaron Cruden (Manawatu), Israel Dagg (Hawke's Bay), Aled de Malmanche (Waikato), Tom Donnelly (Otago), Ben Franks (Tasman), Owen Franks (Canterbury), Zac Guildford (Hawke's Bay), Cory Jane (Wellington), Richard Kahui (Waikato), Jerome Kaino (Auckland), Richie McCaw (Canterbury, captain), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Mils Muliaina (Waikato), Joe Rokocoko (Auckland), Kieran Read (Canterbury), Conrad Smith (Wellington), Benson Stanley (Auckland), Adam Thomson (Otago), Brad Thorn (Canterbury), Neemia Tialata (Wellington), Victor Vito (Wellington), Piri Weepu (Wellington), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour).