By Alan Dymock
THE SUPER Rugby semi-final in Hamilton. An hour gone. Ryan Crotty fires out a loose pass to one of his Crusaders team-mates but before it can touch a fingertip a sprinting Aaron Cruden snatches the ball and bursts towards an interception try. It was a close game that the Waikato Chiefs won through their ability force their way through for scores and the Crusaders never quite looked strong enough to get to the final.
Why is this Crotty-Cruden incident worth noting? Well, as the All Blacks name a team to contend the Bledisloe Cup in Australia – a team with almost no surprises – there has been some reaction to the selection of these two men. Chiefly, people are delighted that Cruden steps in but wary of the potential Crotty debut.
The Crusaders centre was a late call-up to the All Black squad after Francis Saili went down and with Dan Carter pulling out and Cruden being promoted to starting fly-half, Crotty was gifted the empty spot on the bench. He is considered a paint-by-numbers guy and his rough-woven beard makes him look like the hipster who started turning up at your gym. In short: he is not the impossibly-skilled ringmaster most All Black fans want in their midfield and some feel that another hard worker is simply not what they need.
He is skilled and he is a facilitator. If Steve Hansen deems him good enough, surely he should be given a chance? Of course, with no other headlines and the All Blacks picking an almost predictable, experienced team there has to be something to pick through.
We have been through all of this before, of course, with Cruden himself. It took the fly-half time to convince the Kiwi public he had the mental aptitude to succeed once he had stepped out of Dan Carter’s shadow. Bossing games since his shaky time at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, though, he has become a figure of confidence and a game leader. That is not to say that he shouts and screams in the dressing room or grabs the likes of Kieran Read by the collar, but now people would not sound odd if they suggested that the kid is calm enough for international rugby.
Crotty may not have Cruden’s brain or a bag of tricks with the same dimensions, but he should be afforded the leeway that Cruden never got. The business of international rugby is hard enough and at least for the Bledisloe, Crotty has the ability to contend with Wallabies like Adam Ashley-Cooper with an hour of play under his drawstring. If he is used.
The fact remains that this is a battle-hardened and purposeful All Blacks side that could be parachuted into any hotspot, on any terrain, and be expected to win. Steven Luatua is a replacement for Liam Messam, but no one is screaming in horror over this. Crotty may not even get his debut if the game is close, but an All Black ‘weakness’ is normally of a better ilk than any other international replacement.
The fear must be, then, that the All Blacks do not thump this new-era Australia and maybe we just want easy excuses lined up in the face of such a predictable All Black selection.
All Blacks team v Australia: Israel Dagg; Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Steven Luatua; Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano; Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Subs: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.