‘Mature’ Cruden ready to fill Carter’s boots

There has been no shortage of photo ops for the few dozen fans lingering around the lobby of the All Blacks’ hotel in West Dublin this week but none left happy unless they came away with a snapshot or signature from Dan Carter.

Injured and absent from tomorrow’s line-up he may be but the man they call DC, though humble and personable, is never less than a magnet for attention and has been through nine years and 100 international caps.

Walking in his wake can’t be easy matter, but New Zealand are better stocked than most when it comes to their depth chart as we saw when they won a World Cup with a fourth-choice out-half plucked from a fishing expedition on the Waikato River. Stephen Donald has long since dropped even further down the list of prospective replacements for the man who wore the golden boots last week in Twickenham so the baton will pass on to Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett tomorrow.

With 42 appearances between them, neither is a rookie and it will be the former who dons the famous number 10 jersey at the Aviva Stadium with the expectation the latter will be afforded game time before the last act is done.

Coach Steve Hansen spoke yesterday about how Cruden has grown more comfortable in the famous black jersey on the back of a sensational season with a Chiefs side that claimed the Super Rugby title as well as national selection.

“Obviously, tens are expected to be your main navigator and he’s doing that well and his kicking has improved immensely, both out of hand and at goal, his running game has always been very good,” said the former Wales coach.

“Defensively he’s got better, but I think the big thing for him is he’s matured as a man and as a player and he feels like he belongs in the group, which is really important.”

Still only 24, the cancer survivor is the latest in a luxurious line that includes Grant Fox, Andrew Mehrtens and Carter. All, and more, have shone in a position which demands almost reverential respect in the home country and he was reminded of that heritage yesterday. No pressure, like.

“Wearing any All Black jersey is pretty special and 10 and seven are normally pretty hotly contested jerseys,” he accepted. “They have a pivotal role in the make-up of what goes on so for me I see it as an honour. It is an honour to put the black jersey on every time and I try to embrace the challenge.”

Like Cruden, Barrett made his senior international debut against Ireland and, for the 20-year-old, it was all the more special in that he lived here for 16 months as a child.

“I loved every minute of it. I loved the experience and the people. Very hospitable. It is always great to come back. I came here after the tour last year so it is awesome to have the opportunity to play in front of the Irish at the Aviva Stadium.”

Home for the duration was Ballinacree, outside Oldcastle in Meath, and he spoke about leaving the door open to a more lengthy return in the future, having been approached a year ago by parties eager to avail of his services. For now, he has plenty to see to with the All Blacks.

Cruden has attributed his growing stature and improving form with the world champions to the simple fact he has been afforded more “time in the saddle” thanks to injuries but Barrett has had to do more with less. Though he has earned 15 caps since his debut in June of last year, he has yet to wear the number 10, but the 20-year-old has developed a reputation as a guy who can make an impact late on.

His explanation? Very Carter-like. Modest.

“I guess a bit of luck. Coming off the bench you have a good opportunity to look at other teams and see what they are doing so when you get on you have a fair idea of what may work and what the team is trying to do. You do learn off the bench.”

No Dan, then. Just Generation Next.


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