Super Rugby: Fly-Halves Face Off In Title Decider
by Brendan Bradford in Hamilton –
Aaron Cruden was skateboarding around Palmerston North when he got the SOS call from Graham Henry during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The diminutive playmaker masterfully led the All Blacks against Argentina and Australia in the quarter and semi-finals but was struck down by the same injury curse that cruelled Dan Carter and Colin Slade earlier in the tournament. It was all the opportunity the playmaker, now 24, needed and he hasn’t looked back since, guiding the Chiefs to a maiden Super Rugby title last year and securing a regular spot in any All Blacks squad.
In a talented Brumbies side boasting the likes of sharpshooter Christian Lealiifano, breakdown king and all round legend George Smith, long-serving winger Clyde Rathbone and electric fullback Jesse Mogg, it’s easy to forget about Matt Toomua. But the 23-year-old has been the most consistent flyhalf in Australia this Super Rugby season and is well deserving of his spot in Ewen McKenzie’s 40-man Wallaby squad.
There are intriguing and mouth-watering match-ups across the park tonight – George Smith v any Chiefs player at the breakdown, Sio v Tameifuna, Mogg v Anscombe, White v Kerr-Barlow – but the most important one will be between the two number tens.
They’re both hard as nails, play well above their weight and last week upstaged more decorated flyhalves in their respective semi-finals.
Cruden scored 15-points, including a timely intercept try against Dan Carter’s Crusaders last Saturday and will be giving All Blacks coach Steve Hansen the best kind of selection headache as the Rugby Championship approaches.
Toomua meanwhile ran the Brumbies backline against the Morne Steyn led Bulls in Pretoria and made the crucial linebreak to set up Tevita Kuridrani’s match-winning try in the 78th minute.
More dynamic, Cruden is capable of wowing the crowd like Quade Cooper, but is just as adept playing a more conventional role and grinding out victories. Although his run away try against the Crusaders in Hamilton last weekend will stick in the mind as a highlight, he made three match-saving tackles deep in Chiefs territory in the second half.
The toughness that sets Cruden apart from many other five-eights is something he shares with Toomua. In addition to his understated and intelligent attack, the Brumbies playmaker is an imposing defender and will be gunning for Cruden from the get-go.
The defensive aspect of their games is almost as fascinating as their attacking prowess. The winner could well be decided by which 10 muscles up most in the defensive line.
The Brumbies favour a field-possession approach while the Chiefs are able to attack from anywhere on the field. Dave Rennie and Jake White have named unchanged line-ups from last weekend with the Brumbies attempting to overcome a heavy travel schedule and the Chiefs looking to become just the fourth franchise to win back-to-back titles. With Cruden the young pretender to Dan Carter’s All Blacks number 10 jersey and Matt Toomua knocking on the door of the Wallabies, this match could be a portent of things to come at Test-match level.
Like all trans-Tasman showdowns, it will be full of passion and high on skill. Don’t miss it!
SUPER RUGBY FINAL
Chiefs v Brumbies, Waikato Stadium, 5.30pm Saturday FOX SPORTS 2
CHIEFS: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Hika Elliot, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Craig Clarke (c), 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Tanerau Latimer, 8. Matt Vant Leven, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12. Andrew Horrell, 13. Charlie Ngatai, 14. Lelia Masaga/Robbie Robinson, 15. Gareth Anscombe.
Replacements: 16. Rhys Marshall, 17. Ben Afeaki, 18. Michael Fitzgerald, 19. Sam Cane, 20. Augustine Pulu, 21. Bundee Aki, 22. Robbie Robinson/Patrick Osborne.
BRUMBIES: 1. Scott Sio, 2. Stephen Moore, 3. Ben Alexander, 4. Scott Fardy, 5. Sam Carter, 6. Peter Kimlin, 7. George Smith, 8. Ben Mowen (c), 9. Nic White, 10. Matt Toomua, 11. Clyde Rathbone, 12. Christian Lealiifano, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Henry Speight, 15. Jesse Mogg.
Replacements: 16. Siliva Siliva, 17. Ruan Smith, 18. Fotu Auelua, 19. Colby Faingaa, 20. Ian Prior, 21. Andrew Smith, 22. Joe Tomane.