Never-say-die tackle earns Fruean the big tick
Story by: Wayne Martin - Nelson Mail - Photo by: Evan Barnes / Shuttersport
Maintaining any sort of long-term presence in international rugby is largely about attitude.
It's a given that the more obvious variables, such as ability, size and strength, will attract the initial interest. But generally speaking, it's what's in the head that counts.
People have been muttering Robbie Fruean's name for some time now as a likely candidate for future All Black selection.
One incident in last Friday's Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and Brumbies at Trafalgar Park confirmed that Fruean indeed is cultivating the mental capacity to make it at the highest level.
With the Crusaders well ahead, 45-10, and their try-scoring bonus point already in the bank, the "home team" could have been excused a moment of detachment when Brumbies centre Adam Ashley-Cooper looked headed for a certain try late in the second half.
Fruean was having none of it.
It's a matter of personal pride for most rugby players not to allow your opposite to score points.
It's all part of the one-upmanship that comes with ensuring a psychological edge.
The crowd collectively rose to their feet as the two No13s engaged in a frenzied sprint to the line.
That Fruean won the battle, eventually dragging down the Wallabies international a metre short of the line, arguably said as much about the big centre's potential as any of his previously well-documented attacking exploits.
It was an absorbing spectacle. It screamed "pick me" to a most likely equally absorbed All Black selection panel ahead of some crucial decision-making later this year.
Coach Todd Blackadder described Fruean's effort post-match as "Crusaderish".
He was delighted with Fruean's commitment and his mental strength.
It's what separates contenders from pretenders.
There were other instances of Fruean's increasing development, notably the pin-point pass to set up right winger Sean Maitland for the first of his record-equalling four tries. He appears ready for the step up.
That's not to say he's a shoo-in to replace Conrad Smith as the All Blacks' first-choice centre, not by a long stretch.
Along with Dan Carter and Mils Muliaina, Smith provides the mental acuity, along with a good measure of the skill, to ensure the smoothness of operation crucial to the All Blacks' attacking policies.
He's also critical to their defensive organisation.
Smith complements the more direct attacking skills of Ma'a Nonu, although alongside Sonny Bill Williams, Fruean is now also starting to develop a midfield partnership with the potential to offer the All Black selectors another tantalising alternative.
It's a partnership that still needs nurturing, although in the crucial late stages of a test match, imagine the impact of the Crusaders duo on a tiring opposition defence.
And there's still ample time for more fine-tuning.