AARON Cruden feels the new-found confidence he has in his game means the All Blacks will not miss the presence of the injured legend Dan Carter as keenly as anticipated.
The 23-year-old will don Carter's number 10 jersey for the third and final Test match against Ireland on his home ground on Saturday.
Cruden has enjoyed a stellar Super Rugby season with the league-leading Chiefs and will be cheered on by a partisan crowd at Waikato Stadium.
He feels his performances at last year's World Cup have led to an all-round improvement to his game.
He said: "Last year I felt that I was playing some decent footie, then obviously I missed out on the initial World Cup squad.
"The coaches told me to keep with it because if there were injuries I might get a call in and, fortunately for me, I was able to come in and gain a lot of confidence by the end.
"It gave me that push I needed and I was able to continue that form this season. I've been happy with how things are going but I know that I can be a lot better as well."
With a lot of new faces in this season's Chiefs team, such as Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane, Cruden has emerged as a fresh-faced leader.
The Palmerston North native featured as a second-half replacement in the All Blacks' 42-10 win at Eden Park, but saw no game time last Saturday as Carter held his nerve to kick the winning drop goal.
Team selector Grant Fox, a former All Blacks number 10, is confident in Cruden's abilities.
He said: "We all thought, for a long time, that without Dan and Richie (McCaw) we can't win. Last year we proved that wrong.
"Now you've got a guy like Aaron that has grown and you would have absolute confidence that Aaron, going into that match, would be a pretty seamless transition."
Cruden said the All-Blacks must be on their guard against an Ireland side desperate to sign off with a win.
"We know (facing) the Irish is a great challenge and we have to be on our game. It will be a great physical battle and we know they are going to throw everything at us," he added.
"We have to be sure that we stick with the right game-plan and the right mental attitude come game time."