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Cruden acknowledges role of NZ U20 career

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Sportal.co.nz     27 Nov 2013     Getty Images

Cruden told the International Rugby Board's Total Radio show that the number of players, 49, who appeared in the 2011 Rugby World Cup after graduating from the junior event, showed that there was an effective pathway to top honours in the game.

"I think that Under-20 tournament is a great pathway to be able to apply your trade and sort of show your wares on the international stage, and then you never know what can happen," Cruden said.

"For me, obviously, a couple of years later I was in the big one, the Rugby World Cup, and it was a total dream come true and I think I have the Junior World Cup to thank for that."

Cruden said the Under-20s New Zealand jersey had been his first and the tournament had given him a taste of the international scene and an idea of what it required to be able to back up week in and week out.

Cruden failed to make the 30-man squad for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand and had booked a holiday to the United States. The day after he made his bookings he received the call that Dan Carter had been injured and he was required by the All Blacks.

Until then, Cruden had been like most other New Zealanders - totally wrapped up in the event.

"I was sort of expecting if there were going to be injuries or things it might happen earlier in the tournament. As the tournament progressed I started to think that it probably wasn't going to happen.

"It was a pretty surreal feeling [getting the call-up]," he said.

"Obviously you never want to see another player get injured and to hear Dan was struck down with injury was devastating, but then I suppose for me it was something I had dreamt of since I was a young boy, so I was stoked to get that opportunity as well," he said.

New Zealand's hopes slumped with Carter's injury but with Colin Slade, and now Cruden, in the mix there was still hope.

Cruden knew Carter's absence increased the pressure but said he tried to forget about that and if the chance came to play his own game. It was to be about Aaron Cruden and not trying to be Carter and doing all that he did.

When he eventually got onto the field as a replacement for Slade in the quarter-final against Argentina he was greeted by senior players who told him to enjoy the occasion.

With Slade unable to play it was Cruden who took the field in the final against France. But in a triple blow for New Zealand, Cruden followed Carter and Slade out of the team when forced to leave the field in the 34th minute.

"I was really gutted, obviously getting injured in a World Cup final and when I was sitting on the bench and reflecting on it I thought I had to have a little bit of a giggle at the same time.

"I mean, it's not often you get struck down by injury in the same position three times at one tournament.

"To have that happen was pretty devastating personally that I couldn't see out the final, but by the time the final whistle went and I looked at the scoreboard and saw that we were ahead, all that sort of disappointment had gone because we had won the World Cup and finally 24 years of waiting was over and we were able to celebrate as a team and as a country," he said.

The accolades have continued for Cruden as he has prospered once again as Carter has suffered injury concerns through 2013. But Cruden has also been making his own way with the Chiefs where he has been part of two winning Super Rugby campaigns, and by no coincidence under the coaching of his 2009 Junior World Cup coach Dave Rennie, and the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup-winning All Blacks sides.

All of them rewards for the player who was the IRB Junior Player of the Year in 2009.