Mark Reason: Aaron Cruden, Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett come together on the serene plateau
5 August, 2020, 10:42 am
Some days it seems like the pale lemon sunshine and the cold pink wine will keep on flowing for ever. We are up on the serene plateau, living a perfect day that will never end. You watch Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett and for a moment these seem like blessed times.
And compared to the rest of the world, we are blessed indeed. Right now we live in the lucky country. It could all change in a matter of days, of course, but for now every day of rugby is a joy. And it got me to wondering if New Zealand, or any country come to that, has ever had three so indisputably great No 10s playing at the same time.
Ah, already I hear some dispute. So let us start with Cruden because I can hear some murmuring in the cheap seats. Well, here is the question. Is there another All Black in history who has started so many matches for New Zealand and not been on the losing side in any of those games?
History frequently rewrites the truth and so it is with Cruden. When he damaged his knee ligaments in 2015, the year of the World Cup, coach Steve Hansen called Cruden “a key member of our team”. The injury was a catastrophe at the time.
There is this idea, because of the way he went on to play in the final, that Dan Carter was going to be Hansen’s starting 10 at the World Cup. But that was never the case. Cruden was a certainty to play first-five. You don’t drop an All Black who never loses. And Carter’s return to form was hesitant and gradual.
Cruden was never quite the great player he had been after that injury, but we saw glimpses of his rugby mana in Saturday evening’s game against the Crusaders. We remembered how Cruden can take the ball to the line, straight and square, and we remembered the quality of his passing to the support runner. Sonny Bill Williams was at his best outside Cruden.
We were also reminded just how influential a defensive player Cruden can be and he outshines Mo’unga and Barrett in this one regard. There were two moments in the match that defined the man.
The first was when the Crusaders were about to score following Will Jordan’s break just after half-time. It was potentially the pivotal moment in the match. Cruden then dashed back and with one hand scoops the ball out of the back of the ruck and regains an apparently legal position. Of course it should have been a penalty and of course Cruden should have been binned. But he did it so quickly and skilfully that he fooled all the officials.
The second moment was when he rushed Mo’unga on the Crusaders line. Mo’unga, with that sublime vision and those clever hands, was good enough to flick the ball on and Cruden was left lying on the ground in the in goal area as Jack Goodhue broke up the field.
So tell me, who was it who finally hauled Goodhue down 35 metres later? Yes, Cruden got back to his feet and ran his man down before any other Chief got to him. A few of his current teammates should watch that clip over and over again and learn what it takes to win Super Rugby titles and to be a supreme All Blacks pivot. You can have all the skill in the world, but without guts and a big heart, it matters little.