All Blacks five-eighth Aaron Cruden hasn’t even made the bench for Saturday’s final Bledisloe Cup Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
Exiled All Blacks playmaker Aaron Cruden’s punishment is over but he’s still paying for his sins after being completely overlooked for Saturday’s Bledisloe dead-rubber.
Cruden, New Zealand’s first-choice five-eighth in the past year with Dan Carter sidelined, won’t even suit up against the Wallabies after serving his two-Test ban for the big night out that saw him miss the trip to Argentina four weeks ago.
Beauden Barrett has been preferred at No.10 on form, while Colin Slade’s extra versatility has squeezed Cruden out of a reserves spot at Suncorp Stadium.
“He’s definitely not getting punished,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said of the 35-Test star.
“He hasn’t made the 23 simply because Beauden Barrett’s been playing well enough to get another Test at first-five.
“Once we made that decision then it was about what was best for our bench and Sladey covers so many positions for us.”
Cruden now has a tall order to regain top spot on the pecking order with Hansen admitting Hurricanes five-eighth Barrett, who started in the 27-25 last-start loss to South Africa, had “his nose in front”.
Showing the huge depth of talent the All Blacks have, they will still start short-price favourites ($1.30) to break a two-match Brisbane rut without their best two No.10s.
Carter is no certainty for their end-of-season tour, where Cruden will get first chance against USA, but will be named on Monday before a medical assessment on his leg injury.
Hansen was also able to rest winger Ben Smith this weekend and also play it safe with defensive enforcer Jerome Kaino, who will undergo scans on a foot problem.
In their places are Cory Jane, a stand-out in the 51-20 rout of Australia at Eden Park, and blindside flanker Liam Messam.
Lock Brodie Retallick, prop Wyatt Crockett and hooker Dane Coles all return to ensure the All Blacks boast the same tight-five that had their colours lowered in the 12-12 Sydney draw before responding in kind in Auckland.
Hansen stressed his pack wouldn’t be taking the Wallabies tight-five lightly.
All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Colin Slade, Charles Piutau.