Cruden vs. Carter in NZ derby
The Crusaders and the Chiefs clash in Saturday's first Super Rugby semi-final
WELLINGTON - The clash between Crusaders fly-half, Daniel Carter and his Chiefs counterpart, Aaron Cruden could prove crucial in Saturday's Super Rugby semi-final, but it may also have longer-term ramifications for the New Zealanders looking ahead to the 2015 World Cup.
The 31-year-old Carter has virtually owned the All Blacks' number 10 jersey since 2004 and fended off all challengers on the way to establishing himself as one of the greatest fly-halves ever to play the game.
However, he has become what national coach Steve Hansen has described as a "red flag" athlete, whose workload will need to be managed ahead of the All Blacks' World Cup defence in England; particularly as he sustains more frequent injuries.
The 24-year-old Cruden has been considered the pretender to Carter's throne for a number of years, but only really came into his own at international level in the past 12 months, most notably against France last month.
The seven-times champion Crusaders enter the clash at Waikato Stadium as the form team of the competition, having thumped the Chiefs 43-15 and then demolished the Queensland Reds 38-9 in the playoffs.
Given the struggle expected between the packs and the pressure he will come under from the All Blacks-laden Crusaders' forwards, Cruden's ability to impose himself on the game will be closely watched.
His kicking, game management and ability to attack the line and keep opposition defences guessing could make the difference on Saturday and see the Chiefs host the final, but his performance should also gauge whether he is ready to succeed Carter sooner, rather than later.