Beauden Barrett (L) and Aaron Cruden. Photo / Getty Images.
Selecting an All Blacks side in March…it may sound crazy but Super Rugby has become the old All Blacks trial and these early round games will decide who starts in the three-test series starting June 11 against Wales.
With the likes of Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith ending their international careers after the World Cup, there are a few starting spots up for grabs.
Today we look at the famous number 10 jersey. Who should be wearing it based on the opening two rounds of Super Rugby?
Gregor Paul selects…Aaron Cruden (Chiefs)
We haven’t seen vintage Aaron Cruden in 2016, but we have seen enough to be sure of three things. Firstly, he’s fully recovered from his knee injury and has lost none of his acceleration or agility. Secondly, he’s been tactically astute as always and thirdly, he’s been willing to not operate exclusively as a first receiver and instead pop up in wider channels to attack the line.
In the final 20 minutes against the Crusaders, the Chiefs screwed the nut tighter and found a late burst to see them home. Cruden was the man who masterminded that blast – kept the ball in the right places and continually took the right options.
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That’s made him, probably, the most effective New Zealand No 10 so far and with his defence as brave and as committed as usual, he has set a good base from which to build. If there is one niggle about his game at the moment, it’s his decision to allow Damian McKenzie kick for goal.
The All Blacks don’t have any natural goal-kickers in their back three and it will be the responsibility of whoever wears No 10 to take on that role. The ability to land goals under pressure was a huge part of what made Daniel Carter the player he is and Cruden needs to deliver similar consistency and accuracy. The best way of doing that is to kick every week.
Patrick McKendry selects…Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)
Barrett has two advantages in his bid to claim the All Blacks No10 jersey – he filled the role more recently than Aaron Cruden, which sort of makes him the incumbent following the departure of Dan Carter, and he is kicking goals for the Hurricanes.
Currently he is kicking at 75 per cent (6 from 8 shots), while Cruden can only watch as Damian McKenzie kicks from the tee. We can probably write off the Hurricanes’ round one thrashing by the Brumbies as a bad night at the office for everyone in yellow and black, but Barrett was back to near his best against the Highlanders. He was increasingly dominant in the second half against a fellow All Blacks rival in Lima Sopoaga, who was later replaced by Hayden Parker.
As a replacement for the All Blacks, Barrett is ideally suited to testing tiring defences (remember his late try in the World Cup final?) and, encouragingly for him and the Hurricanes, he was increasingly breaking the line in Dunedin. Standing flatter in the line would have given him a better chance of that in the first half.