Rugby World Cup 2011

Biggest game of Cruden's life

2011-10-14 11:23
Aaron Cruden (File)

Auckland - Aaron Cruden, New Zealand's 'third-choice' flyhalf for their Rugby World Cup semi-final with Australia, believes he can now handle "the biggest game of my life" after once wobbling against the Wallabies.

Cruden, 22, admitted he was nervous and put too much pressure on himself when he stepped in for injured first-choice Dan Carter in Sydney in September last year only to be hauled off in the second half.

Although the All Blacks won, Cruden struggled to find his rhythm - in what remains his only start in just seven Test appearances to date - and was replaced by Colin Slade mid-way through the second spell.

Cruden then had to watch from the sidelines as the Kiwis fought back to snatch an unlikely 23-22 win.

Now Cruden is entrusted with the key playmaking role at No 10 after both Carter and Slade were ruled out of the World Cup through groin injuries.

"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," Cruden said.

"Against Australia, it's always an epic battle and you chuck a semi-final into the mix and it's huge."

Asked about his mood ahead of Sunday's crunch game at a sold-out Eden Park, Cruden said: "At the moment I'm not too bad, 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 said he had matured as a footballer since his jittery time in Sydney 13 months ago.

"I'd like to think (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."

Cruden said if he was targeted in defence by the big running Wallaby forwards it would give him an opportunity to play his way into the contest.

"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."

Only a few weeks ago Cruden was riding his skateboard, far away from the pressure cooker of the World Cup.

"It's funny how things can change in two weeks. It's a pretty awesome rollercoaster I'm riding at the moment and hopefully that can continue," he said.

New Zealand coach Graham Henry has put his faith in Cruden to get the job done and help steer the All Blacks into the World Cup final.

"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," Henry 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."


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