Aaron Cruden continued his development as a potential world class flyhalf by guiding a ruthless Waikato Chiefs to the top of the Super XV standings with a 34-22 victory over the Wellington Hurricanes in Hamilton, New Zealand, yesterday.
Cruden, who grew in confidence when he started two Tests for the All Blacks against France earlier this month as world leading points scorer Daniel Carter recovered from a broken hand, created two tries and slotted 14 points with the boot.
The four-try victory moved last season’s champions to 61 points, two points ahead of Australia’s ACT Brumbies, who have played one game more than the New Zealanders. The loss ended the Hurricanes’ playoff hopes.
“We were a bit rusty in the first half and I think [showed] a bit more accuracy and ticker [heart] in the second half,” Chiefs captain Craig Clarke said in a pitchside interview. “The points are crucial as we aim to get a home semi and we have to keep winning these local derbies.”
The intensity was ramped up with the playoffs looming, as both sides shook off the rust from the international break.
Both were patient in their attack, willing to build phases and stretch the opposition defense, with the only difference in the first half being a missed conversion by Beauden Barrett.
Cruden slotted an early penalty and converted tries to No. 8 Matt vant Leven and inside center Bundee Aki.
Both of the Hurricanes tries, to scrumhalf T.J. Perenara and Barrett, came from patient buildups and while the flyhalf converted Perenara’s try, he was unable to add the extra points from his own.
However, the 22-year-old added a penalty with halftime looming to reduce the deficit to 17-15 at the break.
Barrett missed an early second-half penalty and the match settled into a war of attrition, before Cruden gave his side a five-point cushion with his second penalty. The Chiefs then shut the Hurricanes down in the final quarter.
The Chiefs pulled clear when scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow and replacement prop Ben Tameifuna crashed over to give the home side a 19-point lead with five minutes remaining, before Alapati Leiua grabbed a consolation try for the Hurricanes.
“I felt we were in that game, even though the scoreboard suggests otherwise,” Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith said. “They’re a good side and you know that when you think you’re in it, look at the scoreboard and [you] are 10 points down.”