AUCKLAND, 18 Oct. - Many children who have grown up in New Zealand have won the Rugby World Cup for the All Blacks countless times in their backyards. Aaron Cruden for one.
"I think every kid did and if they say they didn't then they're lying,” the young fly half said. “You're always out there practising, maybe kicking the winning goal or scoring the winning try.”
This weekend, however, Cruden will swap the back lawn for Eden Park, with the chance of turning childhood fantasy into reality against France in the final of Rugby World Cup 2011.
“It's something that I've dreamt of since I was a little fellow and something I'm very excited about,” Cruden said. “Those are just things you look back on now and think 'wow, I have the opportunity to play in a Rugby World Cup final', and it's going to be pretty special.
"I'm just humbled and blessed to be back in this squad and given this opportunity.”
Cruden was born in January 1989, little more than 18 months after New Zealand last won the Webb Ellis Cup in June 1987, but the 22-year-old is well aware of the chance to repeat history.
"I've seen highlights from that game, it's pretty special,” he said. “Hopefully it'll be the same on Sunday night with New Zealand raising the World Cup. It's definitely what we're aiming for."
Cruden was thrust into the World Cup spotlight following the exit of New Zealand’s star fly half Dan Carter and then his replacement Colin Slade, both through injury.
While Carter is no longer the man starting at No.10, Cruden says the All Blacks star is still involved and will play a key role in his own preparation for the final.
"Dan's always floating around the hotel and he's been really positive, always smiling and laughing with the boys,” Cruden said. “He sent me a text before the semi-final wishing me all the best.
“I'll definitely be going to him and just asking him what he thinks about certain things this week and pick his brains so I can be as well prepared as I can come kick-off time on Sunday."
Cruden’s ability to absorb and embrace the pressure that comes with replacing a player of Carter stature has impressed many. New Zealand assistant coach Wayne Smith believes Cruden’s determination to make it back into the All Blacks side is his greatest achievement.
“The thing that has really impressed me is that we left him out of the end-of-year tour last year for a reason, and we were pretty clear about that and he went away and worked on that,” Smith said.
“I think you’ve seen the difference there, particularly in his ability to kick and to dominate a game through kicking. I think that’s been a big improvement. Like it or not, every All Black inside back needs that ability and he’s gone and developed that through a lot of hard work.
“He’s always shown composure. He’s had bigger challenges in life than this and he’s had to bring that courage and ability to handle pressure into this role. He’s a pretty special kid I think.”