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Cruden dodges debate after stellar show

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 13/11/2016 Angelo Risso

Italy vs New Zealand - 12/11/16: New Zealand's Aaron Cruden in action with Italy's Andrea Lovotti (R) © Reuters / Tony Gentile Livepic Italy vs New Zealand - 12/11/16: New Zealand's Aaron Cruden in action with Italy's Andrea Lovotti (R) All Blacks first five-eighth Aaron Cruden guided his side around the park with aplomb against Italy but insists holding onto the No.10 jumper is the furthest thing from his mind.

Cruden, 27, played almost an hour in his side's 68-10 thumping of Gli Azzurri, hitting seven conversions from seven and deploying an intelligent kicking game.

The Chiefs co-skipper kicked from his hand eight times, finding pockets behind Italian fullback Edoardo Padovani and nailing a crossfield kick that led to a Steven Luatua try.

Yet Cruden, who is reportedly mulling a lucrative offer from French outfit Montpellier, deflected questions on his battle with Beauden Barrett for the pivotal role.

The Palmerston North native started the 2016 campaign as coach Steve Hansen's first-choice, but injury and the astonishing form of Barrett have seen him relegated to a bench role.

He told reporters at Stadio Olimpico he was just focused on doing his best for the side as they gear up for their final two Tests of the year against Ireland and France.

"There aren't many better feelings than afternoon footy with the sun on your back and running around, so I really enjoyed it, happy to get out there and play," Cruden said.

"We'll see what happens next week in Ireland."

The Test in Rome marked Cruden's first start in the black jumper since his side's June series whitewash of Wales, with Barrett rested for next week's crunch match in Dublin.

Hansen also used the match to blood a number of young and fringe players, including Test debutants Rieko Ioane and Liam Coltman.

Cruden felt the much-changed line-up had done the jersey justice, ruthlessly piling on the points against an impotent Italian defence.

"For a lot of guys, getting a decent crack out there today was the most pleasing thing, a lot of guys who haven't played for a while," Cruden said.

"Being one of the drivers of the team, the guy who shoulders the responsibility of getting the boys around the paddock, it was nice to be able to score a few tries and play good footy."

Hansen, who simply instructed Cruden to nail his core roles of kicking, passing and organising against the Italians, was pleased with what he saw from the playmaker.

He had also provided solid leadership alongside stand-in skipper Sam Cane.

"As the game went on he got better and better, and we're happy with where he's at," Hansen said.

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