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All Blacks coach Steve Hansen praises Aaron Cruden after Auckland win against England
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All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen hailed the creativity of Aaron Cruden after they claimed a dramatic 20-15 victory over England at Eden Park.
Only a 78th-minute try from Conrad Smith in the right corner gave the All Blacks a 15th successive Test victory and protected their 20-year unbeaten run at their Auckland stronghold.
Cruden had matched England's five penalties, but with the scores level at 15-15, the New Zealand fly-half opted to break the mould.
Referee Nigel Owens awarded a penalty in favour of the hosts and then came the defining moment of the match as Cruden made the brave call to spurn a shot at goal for a tap penalty that ultimately led to Smith's try.
"It was one of those games where we had to take the match by the scruff of the neck. We needed to break the deadlock somehow," Hansen said.
"There were two teams going at it hammer and tongs and Cruden did something different and that changed the game. I thought 'good on you son'.”
England were forced to play the last 10 minutes with 14 men after Marland Yarde was sin-binned, but still remained in contention and Hansen was impressed by their work-rate.
Much had been made of Stuart Lancaster’s depleted resources ahead of the first Test but the All Blacks coach lavished praise on England, before warning his side will improve ahead of their Dunedin showdown in a week’s time.
"Now I hope you'll see what we've known all along and that's what a good team England are,” he added.
"It was a dour game and there were a lot of errors from both sides, probably down to rustiness. We have a lot of work to do between now and next weekend.
"We know now this will be one of those special Test series. We gave ourselves a mark of around 70 per cent. We'll probably have to be 30-40 per cent better next weekend."
Captain Richie McCaw echoed the sentiment of Hansen, acknowledging the All Blacks made a slow start but was impressed with the way they grew into the game.
“In the first half we were caught half a yard off the pace, it took 40 minutes to build into it but it was much better in the second half,” he told Sky Sports.
“England were just a little bit quicker to their feet and getting things set, it’s just the little things that every individual has to get right themselves.
“But I thought in the second half we got back into the game and obviously put a bit of pressure on.”
McCaw, who won his 125th cap in the series curtain-raiser, admitted it was a relief to get over the line but does not expect England to relent.
“Test matches are called that for a reason and it’s never going to be easy, we knew we’d probably have to play for 80 minutes and we did,” he added.
“At the end of the day, as long as you get there, that’s all that counts.
“It’s nice to get the first one under our belt but it doesn’t get any easier having to face them again next week.”