Aaron Cruden has downplayed talks of an All Blacks recall after returning to the Chiefs for the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby season.
The 31-year-old has rejoined the Hamilton-based side on a one-year deal before heading to play for the Kobe Kobelco Steelers in Japan’s Top League at the end of the year.
Cruden, who recently returned to training with his former side, left Top 14 outfit Montpellier ahead of Handre Pollard’s arrival at the club after two injury-plagued seasons in France.
The experienced flyhalf earned 89 caps in his first spell with the Chiefs, and helped them clinch successive Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013.
Speaking to the media after training on Thursday, the 2011 World Cup winner revealed that he was not expecting to add to his 50 All Blacks caps during the July Test window or the Rugby Championship, despite being eligible for selection after returning to New Zealand.
‘I haven’t really thought too much about the All Blacks,’ admitted Cruden. ‘I’ve been removed from that environment for a few seasons and there’s been a lot of changes in that scene.
‘Coming back is more about contributing to the Chiefs and we have aspirations of winning a title.’
Cruden is the oldest player in the Chiefs squad for the upcoming season, and he will need to share some of his experience with the younger players if the former champions are to enjoy a successful campaign.
‘Looking around, I’m the elder statesman by a long way. I’ll try to contribute and help with these young ones, and be the old guy,’ joked Cruden.
The Chiefs have begun a new era under former Wales coach Warren Gatland, and despite only training with the squad for a short period, Cruden has been impressed by Gatland’s approach.
‘[Gatland’s] pedigree speaks for itself. He’s a passionate Waikato man, so to have him back here will do wonders for our team,’ said Cruden. ‘He’s brought his own style and lots of the boys are energised by that.’
The Chiefs are set to face the Blues in a pre-season friendly in Hamilton on 17 January before taking on their nearby rivals again in the first match of the 25th season of Super Rugby at Eden Park on 31 January.