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Ex-All Black Aaron Cruden emerges as a candidate for Ireland move

By Neil Fissler
(Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ulster are considering a move for veteran former All Blacks playmaker Aaron Cruden as they look to increase their options at fly-half for next season following Billy Burns’s departure to Irish rivals Munster.

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Ulster intended to play scrum-half Nathan Doak at fly-half but are now rethinking the plan after he started their last three games in the outside-half position, two of which have ended in defeat.

They have launched a worldwide search to see who is available, and whispers are that they have been looking at Cruden, 35, who scored two tries in four appearances for Waikato in last season’s NPC.

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Cruden signed his first Hurricanes contract in 2010 and is without a club after three seasons in Japan (two with the Kobelco Kobe Steelers and one with Tokyo Sungoliath) before returning home.

But cash could be a problem with Ulster being forced into making cutbacks after losing nearly £1 million in the 2022-23 season, and they have earmarked a budget of around £150,000 to bring someone in.

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And that might not be enough to tempt the 50-times-capped Cruden into uprooting his wife and two young children, both under five, to the other side of the world unless the offer was far too good to turn down.

Cruden, after rejoining Waikato, said that he would be keeping his options open for 2024 and wouldn’t rule out continuing his playing career or even moving into coaching.

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“I don’t know, to be fair… I’m not actively looking right now… not looking too far ahead, we’ll just see what comes,” he told the New Zealand media.

Adding: “If you’d asked me early on in my career, I probably would have said no to coaching, but now I’m getting closer to the end of it, I’m thinking it could be a potential avenue I want to explore.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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