Australia return to winning form with dominating victory over France in Brisbane
New Zealand’s Cruden hailed for clear thinking under fire during England Test
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden was saluted as the hero of their 20-15 win over England on Saturday, not for the five penalties he kicked but for the one he turned down.
Cruden not only caught England napping, but also his own teammates when he opted to tap and run when the All Blacks won a handy penalty with the score locked at 15-all.
As captain Richie McCaw prepared to call for a shot at goal, Cruden set off down field, fed Beauden Barrett, who passed to Victor Vito, before Ben Smith took the ball and was pulled up just short of the line.
From the resulting scrum, the All Blacks found space down the short side for Conrad Smith to score the match-winning try.
“Someone had to take the game by the scruff of the neck and say, ‘Hey look, we’ll stop what we’re doing here and really have a crack at you’,” coach Steve Hansen said.
“Logic would say Cruden should have had a shot at goal, but I think England would have enjoyed that because then they would have come back. We needed to break the deadlock somehow.”
McCaw said Cruden did not tell anyone what he had in mind, but he had no objection.
“You’ve got to back the guys to have a crack. If they’re always looking at me, you’ll never take opportunities,” McCaw said.
“I was ready to point at the posts, but he thought better of it and at the end of the day it paid off. If we had kicked the goal we would have been up by three, but we would have given England a chance to get field position again.”
Even England coach Stuart Lancaster acknowledged the wisdom of Cruden deciding to go against convention.
“In tight games at 15-all, it’s a drop goal or penalty that sometimes wins it. Unfortunately, they got the penalty then tapped and went and of course got the try,” he said.
Cruden missed the conversion, but until his decisive action he had kept the All Blacks in the game with five penalties, the last of which put the world champions ahead for the first time in the match with 11 minutes remaining.
England, although they stretched the All Blacks for much of the match, failed to score a try and relied on four penalties by Freddie Burns and one by Danny Cipriani for all of their points.
Elsewhere, Australia opened their 2014 international season in style as they scored seven tries to two to dominate a woeful France 50-23 in the first Test.
The Wallabies overcame the loss of new captain Stephen Moore in just the third minute to overwhelm the French.
The final scoreline flattered the French, who were down 50-9 before scoring two late tries with the game well and truly over.
“We wanted to win the first Test of the season, it’s not something we’ve done for a number of years,” Australian coach Ewen McKenzie said. “I think seven tries is a good indication of the intention [of the Wallabies].”
Also, Nemani Nadolo scored 15 points as Fiji defeated Italy 25-14 in a one-off Test in Suva.
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