Watch: Aaron Cruden's brother duels the next Beauden Barrett
On a miserable, windy afternoon in Palmerston North, a battle of two young rising number 10’s took place in front of a couple of hundred spectators. The match between the NZ Schoolboy Barbarians and under-18 Maori sides did not command much attention, but the crossing of paths between Stewart Cruden and Fergus Burke could prove to be an historic one in the future.
Aaron Cruden’s little brother Stewart against Burke, a young man dubbed ‘the Barrett clone’.
Fergus Burke is a tall, solid built first five, and after seeing his appearance, one can’t help but draw comparisons. His kicking game is a real asset and he possesses deceptive speed once he gets going. Stewart Cruden is exactly what you would expect, cut from the same cloth as Aaron with excellent distribution and kicking skills.
Both young pivots showed glimpses of the triple threat skills required of an all-round attacking 10: a playmaker that can cause havoc with a kick, pass or run. The perfect 10 in the modern era is not only able to control and manage the game, but create the big plays using an arsenal of skills. This is how New Zealand 10’s are raised, and few get to the top without mastery of all three attacking components.
As the match unfolded both players had a high involvement in the contest, playing in structure and finding ways to create mismatches. When both scored brilliant individual tries, it indicated this game would be decided on the performance of either first five.
The Barbarians found a number of creative ways to assert Burke into the match, using screen plays and disguised stack formations off scrums, designed to give him the ball at speed.
This paid dividends twice, firstly when second five Kienan Higgins, the usual decoy in the screen play, hit a flat ball straight from halfback Louie Chapman to score before half time, taking the lead to 21-12. Shortly after halftime, a Burke offload set up a brace for Higgins to put the Barbarians 28-12 ahead. With a comfortable lead in place, Burke opened up his bag of tricks, attempting a left foot chip at one point.
Cruden was substituted shortly after halftime however Burke was ahead on points in this battle. Despite a late fight back from the Maori, the Barbarians came away with a 28-24 win. Cruden wasn’t given the same number of opportunities as the Maori struggled to attain attacking field position while the Barbarians had a great platform to attack.
Time will tell whether we will see this matchup again on bigger stages in the future, but for now it’s yet another reminder of how deep the pool of talent is in New Zealand.
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