"I think, coming in now I'm a lot more relaxed" ... Aaron Cruden of the All Blacks. Photo: Phil Walter
HAMILTON: Aaron Cruden will neither share nor shake New Zealand's nerves when he slips into Dan Carter's boots tomorrow.
It's in stark contrast to the mood eight months ago when there was pandemonium across the Tasman at what might happen to a Carter-less All Blacks.
Since then Cruden has matured, with a World Cup win and a sparkling season with the Chiefs smoothing furrowed brows.
Six changes to the All Blacks side, including the absence of Carter and No.8 Kieran Read, will give Ireland hope, but they will not see Cruden as a weak link.
''When I first came in, I was really nervous,'' the 23-year-old said yesterday after being named to start at five-eighth for the third and final Test against Ireland.
''I changed a lot of my techniques and routines in the way I approached things, because I didn't want to not note everything down or miss something and let the team down.
''I think, coming in now, I'm a lot more relaxed. I'm stuck in my routine that's been working for me for the last couple of years.
''I'm just doing that no matter what team I'm playing for, whether it's Manawatu, or the Chiefs, or the All Blacks.''
What a contrast to the man who made a nervy first Test start against Australia in Sydney in 2010, replaced after 61 minutes as the All Blacks scraped home 23-22.
It seems a lifetime ago. Cruden stepped up during the 20-6 World Cup semi-final win over the Wallabies and has not looked back.
Significantly, Cruden's fourth start in 10 Tests will be the first time he has taken goal-kicking duties into an international. He puts his Super Rugby success - he's running at 82 per cent this season - down to less practice.
''In past years, I've been almost goal-kicking every day and, if it wasn't really working, I'd try and change something … it seemed to make it worse,'' he said. ''This year, I've just relaxed about it and I'm set in my technique and it seems to be going over the sticks.''