Rugby Union


Clash of five-eighth styles could decide Super Rugby semi spot

Aaron Cruden and Matt Toomua bring contrasting styles to rugby's most influential position and the battle between the classic five-eighth and the modern midfield manager could decide Saturday's Super Rugby play-off in Canberra.

Cruden at the Chiefs and Toomua at the Brumbies have played key roles in rescuing their teams from setbacks, dragging them into the first-round of the play-offs for a rerun of last year's final.

A classic No.10, Cruden is a slender goal-kicking pivot who dictates play from the hand or boot and can carve his way through a fissure in the defensive line in the blink of an eye.

The beefier Toomua is an archetypical modern Australian playmaker, equally happy at five-eighth or as a hard-tackling inside-centre, and more likely to offload the ball to dangerous attacking players than make breaks himself.

Not that Toomua can't take matters into his own hands, as he showed with his hat-trick of tries in the 47-25 rout of the Force last weekend, which secured the Brumbies home advantage for Saturday's clash.

It was a rampant display against a previously miserly defence. It will give rugby fans in Australia's capital hopes the Brumbies can avenge the 27-22 defeat in Hamilton last year that gave the Chiefs a second successive title.


Cruden's most notable contribution of the season so far has probably been for the All Blacks, with his quickly taken penalty leading to the late try which killed off England's challenge in the first test of the June series.

Having struggled with the disruption of a broken thumb early in the Super Rugby season, Cruden improved as the series went on and returned from international duty to lead the Chiefs to wins in their last two games, which got them into the play-offs.

The fractured digit meant he missed the 41-23 defeat the Chiefs suffered in Canberra in April – halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow was also absent – and the Chiefs will be a different proposition with their best halfbacks in tandem.

The prize on the line on Saturday is most likely to be a three-hour trip up the Hume Highway to face the Waratahs in a Sydney semi-final – a prospect far more intimidating now than it has been for a good few years.

Toomua was injured for the Brumbies' 39-8 loss to the Waratahs at the end of June, and he would surely relish the chance to face them again, if only to press his claim to retain the Wallabies No.12 shirt from the in-form Kurtley Beale.

He admits Cruden has had the "wood" over him in previous meetings. The All Blacks prevailed when they faced each other at five-eighth in the Rugby Championship two weeks after last year's Super Rugby final.

In at least one department, Cruden is bound to have more influence on Saturday's game – good or bad – than Toomua.

The 25-year-old, who has a 68 per cent success rate from the tee this season, will take on goal-kicking duties for the Chiefs. Toomua is behind Christian Lealiifano, Nic White and Jesse Mogg in the list of preferred goalkickers.