The 2020 Mitre 10 Cup will be unlike any provincial competition New Zealanders have witnessed for some time with a slew of current and former All Blacks expected to be on show due to the postponement of rugby around the rest of the world.
Aaron Cruden, who has returned to NZ for a one-season stint with the Chiefs en route to touching down in Japan, is unlikely to feature in the provincial season, however.
While Cruden has been weighing up the possibility of donning the green and white hoops of Manawatu for some time, he has now indicated that playing in the Mitre 10 Cup is unlikely.
“I said while I would love to, at this stage and where things are at, it’s not a possibility, unfortunately, for the season coming,’’ Cruden told Stuff News.
With Cruden contracted to one of the Japan Top League clubs for 2021 (rumoured to be as Dan Carter’s replacement at the Kobelco Steelers), the insurance costs of bringing the former All Black into the Manawatu set-up would be astronomical. With the Top League pre-season likely to get underway as early as next month, fitting the Mitre 10 Cup into Cruden’s calendar would also be almost impossible.
Big things were expected of the Chiefs' 10 in France but the reality was disappointing. Still, no one would question the ability of the playmaker now that he's back in NZ. @TomVinicombe spoke with Aaron Cruden about his return. #SuperRugby #AllBlacks https://t.co/57nyavRSqb
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 10, 2020
“Ngans [Ngani Laumape] actually sent me a message to ask me about playing Mitre 10 for Manawatu,” Cruden told RugbyPass earlier in the season.
“At this stage, we’re not really sure, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with any rugby and what that sort of framework looks like and then we’ll just go from there.”
Evidently, the challenges of playing in the Mitre 10 Cup have become insurmountable. Manwatu will still likely be able to field a highly competitive back division, however.
Cruden’s younger brother, Stewart, who is also a first five, was set to play at the Under 20 World Championship this year before it was cancelled due to the global pandemic. He could partner Aaron Smith in the halves (who hasn’t featured for Manawatu since 2011) – though the Hurricanes’ Jamie Booth will also be available for the Turbos.
Otere Black, meanwhile, could potentially be on the move away from Manwatu to the Bay of Plenty – though the Blues man has said “nothing is settled”.
Nehe Milner-Skudder, having signed a two-year deal with the Highlanders, is another who could be back playing for Manawatu while Rob Thompson will likely be a major presence in the mid-field.
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