14 Oct 2011

Cruden ready to take on Australia

6:25 pm on 14 October 2011

New Zealand's Aaron Cruden will be thrust into his first test start in a year in the rugby World Cup semi-final against Australia on Sunday, but the first five-eighth's coach and teammates have no doubts he will handle the All Blacks' biggest game in a decade.

The 22-year-old cut a tentative figure in his last start against the Wallabies in Sydney in 2010, and was replaced by Colin Slade in the game, Reuters reports.

But coach Graham Henry said Cruden had grown since then and would be a different player at Auckland's Eden Park.

"He's a year older and a lot more experienced and that's important," Henry said on Friday. "I think that was his first big test match and he has learned from that experience.

"It's very seldom that people are the finished product at their first outing and you get better with age as time goes on.

"He's a very good footballer now," added Henry, who has described Sunday's clash as the All Blacks' "biggest game in 10 years".

Cruden was dropped for their end-of-season tour last year and was only brought into the World Cup squad after star player Daniel Carter tore a tendon in his groin and was forced out of the tournament.

He then replaced Slade after the Canterbury first five suffered a groin strain in the All Blacks' 33-10 win over Argentina in the quarter-final in just his seventh test match.

Cruden said on Friday that he felt he had changed considerably since his inauspicious display in Sydney in September last year.

"I would like to think quite a bit. Back then I was fairly nervous and put a lot of pressure on myself.

"Coming in this time the boys have really got behind me and just said to go out there, be Aaron Cruden and express myself and play my natural game."