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Cruden To Start For Hurricanes

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Fuseworks Media
Cruden To Start For Hurricanes

Wellington, March 5 NZPA - Aaron Cruden will make his long-awaited starting debut for the Hurricanes in their Super 14 rugby match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Sunday morning (NZT).

Despite the depleted nature of their backline, coach Colin Cooper has had no qualms promoting the 21-year-old to the No 10 jersey in place of Willie Ripia, who has served the team solidly through three straight wins to open their campaign.

Cruden is one of four changes to the starting 15 from the side who beat the Lions at home last Saturday and one of three very fresh faces introduced to the backline.

Andre Taylor will also make his first start at this level, on the right wing, while Alapati Leiua will make his Super 14 debut at centre.

The latter changes have been forced on Cooper by injuries to All Blacks Conrad Smith (thumb) and Tamati Ellison (shoulder) at centre and wing respectively.

In one change to the forwards, the in-form Michael Paterson moves from blindside flanker to lock to fill the slot vacated by Jason Eaton who injured his knee against the Lions and will miss the rest of the Super 14. Victor Vito returns to wear the No 6 jersey.

On the reserve bench, lock Jeremy Thrush and prop Anthony Perenise join the team for the first time this year. Thrush returns from a shoulder operation he underwent last year and Perenise from a calf injury.

Highlanders wider training squad member Brett Mather has been drafted into the team as outside back cover.

However, most eyes will be on Cruden, the former national age group star from Palmerston North who has run hot and cold in three appearances off the reserve bench this season. His stints have lasted 29, 17 and 34 minutes respectively.

His first touch against the Blues in round one resulted in a thumping welcome from midfielder Benson Stanley but Cruden has gone on to show some neat attacking moments, allied with some shoddy ball retention.

Despite limited experience of rugby in South Africa and at altitude, Cooper has trusted him to step up against a Cheetahs side boasting two quality Springboks flankers in Heinrich Brussow and Juan Smith.

The Cheetahs have made a host of changes themselves, including the introduction of South African under-20 captain Robert Ebersohn at centre.

Following wins over the Blues, Force and Lions in the first three weeks, the Hurricanes can become the first team from their franchise to win the the opening four matches of a Super rugby campaign.

The closest they came previously was in 2006, when they won their first three but fell at the fourth hurdle -- against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, That match was won 27-25 by the hosts in a major boilover.

Team: Cory Jane, Andre Taylor, Alapati Leiua, Ma'a Nonu, David Smith, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Rodney So'oialo, Karl Lowe, Victor Vito, Michael Paterson, Bryn Evans, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, John Schwalger. Reserves: Dane Coles, Anthony Perenise, Jeremy Thrush, Scott Waldrom, Tyson Keats, Willie Ripia, Brett Mather

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