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I'm not stepping into Dan Carter's shoes, I wear my own -- Aaron Cruden
With half of his 28 All Black caps coming from the start, the Chiefs number 10 won’t be considered a back up option any more.

THERE WAS A time when the sight of Dan Carter hobbling off the field in an All Black kit would have made New Zealand second guess themselves.

It feels much longer ago than it actually is.

Aaron Cruden made his international debut as a replacement in 2010 to help inflict a 66 – 28 loss upon Ireland in New Plymouth.

Since then he has amassed 27 more caps three of which came in the World Cup, though his final ended prematurely for after he hyper-extended his knee.

Two years ago he was most certainly a stand-in for Carter, called into the squad and then starting XV after both the record points scorer and Colin Slade were ruled out of the tournament.

These days however, with half of his 28 caps coming from the start, taking the reins of the best team in the world is no longer a daunting prospect.

“I suppose I don’t step into Dan’s shoes, I wear my own,” the 24-year-old told yesterday.

“The more time I get on the field I really enjoy that. Obviously, you gain more confidence the more experience you get and that’s no different for me.”

As Richie McCaw later pointed out, Cruden “had a fair swing at it in the last wee while” as Carter has rarely been able to string together a long period of fitness. With each passing Test, he looks more and more the creative player New Zealand need to keep marching forward.

“We’re pretty lucky to have a guy like that who can just slot in,” says McCaw.

“Since he made his debut in 2010, the growth you’ve seen in him has been phenomenal. He’s always had the talent. But under pressure to deal with things and take the right options, that only comes from experience and you can certainly see he’s made huge improvements in that area.

“He’s directed the Chiefs to two Super Rugby Championships and with that sort of form, although Test rugby is a step up, he just slots in there easily.”

For those who don’t know of Cruden’s back story, this video feature is a touching recap of how he dealt with the diagnosis of testicular cancer at the age of 19.

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Since undergoing surgery and entering remission in 2008, Cruden has not looked back and this weekend he’s 80 minutes away from making All Black history as part of the team who aims to complete a clean sweep of wins this season.

“I think that’d be nice,” Cruden says, “but we’ve got to worry about the process first and make sure the training is right through the week is spot on so we can go in with confidence of getting a result.”

With many pointing at Ireland’s lack of intensity in the loss to Australia, Cruden clearly expects Joe Schmidt’s side to get back to normal come lunchtime on Sunday.

“I think the Irish always play with a lot of heart and a lot of passion. We’re going to have to match that -hopefully it’s a little bit warmer than today, but I’m sure it’s going to be a great game.”

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