Of all the various signings that took place during the Super Rugby offseason, few New Zealand franchises could boast that they’d lured a proven All Black into their squad.

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The Blues have brought Beauden Barrett north from the Hurricanes but he won’t feature until April. The Hurricanes, in turn, will have prop Tyrel Lomax on their books. Lomax, with one Test cap to his name, could help sure-up one of the Hurricanes’ historical weaknesses.

It’s at the Chiefs where a returning All Black could make the biggest impact, however.

Aaron Cruden, who was revealed as a marquee signing in November, has finally joined up with the Chiefs fulltime to help prepare for the upcoming season, which kicks off on 31 January.

The 30-year-old last featured for the Waikato-based franchise in 2017.

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He amassed 89 caps for the Chiefs over six seasons and helped the team to two successive Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013.

Cruden will spend just one season with his old franchise before heading to Japan and will likely be tasked with grooming a potential No. 10 replacement.

The Chiefs have both Tiaan Falcon and Kaleb Trask on their books – young men with plenty of potential but limited experience. Damian McKenzie has been used at first five since Cruden left the side but his natural skillset owes itself more to creating plays from the backfield.

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With Cruden now back on the training field, he looks set to take on a key role in the 10 jersey, which will allow McKenzie to shift to fullback and Falcon and Trask to gain some experience off the bench before potentially coming into starting roles next year.

“It is a huge privilege to be a part of the Gallagher Chiefs once again. It is a fantastic environment to be a part of, which made it an easy decision to choose to return for the 2020 season. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into pre-season training with the guys,” Cruden has said of his return.

The Chiefs will play their first and only pre-season match next week against the Blues in Waihi – the same opposition that they’ll face off against in the tournament opener later this month.

Former Hurricanes lock Michael Fatialofa remains in specialist hospital with family at bedside after a tackle gone wrong over the weekend:

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