Graham Henry is convinced New Zealand’s third-choice fly-half Aaron Cruden has broad enough shoulders to handle the pressure of the All Blacks’ No.10 jersey in Sunday’s World Cup semi-final clash with arch-rivals Australia.
Cruden, 22, has been given the nod with Dan Carter and Colin Slade both sidelined but has made just one start for New Zealand in his previous seven test appearances.
His only start came against Australia in September 2010 – a match that New Zealand won but one in which Cruden flattered to deceive before being replaced in the second half.
Henry however, who welcomes back Israel Dagg at full-back and has been boosted by the news that captain Richie McCaw has shaken off a foot injury, believes the Chiefs fly-half has come on leaps and bounds since then.
"He's a year older and a lot more experienced and that's important," said Henry, who is looking to guide the All Blacks to a first World Cup final since 1995.
"The match last year was his first big test match and he has learned from that experience.
"It's very seldom that people are the finished product at their first outing and you get better with age as time goes on.
"There are no excuses for us. We know what the situation is and we have a huge game in the weekend. If you're not focused now, you'll never be focused.
"There's a quiet determination there in the squad and they're a bit quieter than usual.
“We have been building slowly this week to be ready for Sunday, when we know there will need to be a further lift in intensity and physicality."
Meanwhile, under-fire Australia fly-half Quade Cooper insists the recent criticism of his displays is water off a duck’s back as the Wallabies look to chalk up a third straight World Cup win over their Antipodean rivals.
New Zealand-born Cooper was well below par in Australia’s gritty 11-9 quarter-final victory last time out and has become a hate figure among Kiwi fans – but the Queensland Reds No.10 could not careless.
“I’d rather walk off the field as a winning team than walk off having the greatest game of my career and losing the game," said the 23-year-old, looking to be part of the first side to beat the All Blacks at Auckland’s Eden Park for 17 years.
"My head was fine after the game against South Africa – I was as happy as Larry sitting in the changing room. I don't care if I have a shocker and we win as a team.”
Robbie Deans has been handed a blow however after Kurtley Beale was ruled out for Australia following the hamstring strain he suffered against the Springboks meaning Adam Ashley-Cooper moves to full-back while Anthony Fainga’a comes in at outside centre.