Reigning Top League champions Kobelco Steelers have added a pair of All Blacks veterans to their already impressive ranks ahead of the new campaign.
Chiefs first-five Aaron Cruden and former Highlanders outside back Ben Smith will join the squad for the 2021 Top League season, with their signings confirmed by the club on Friday.
The acquisitions of the pair will add to a hefty Kiwi contingent of players and coaches at the Steelers.
All Blacks star Brodie Retallick is among the New Zealanders on Kobelco’s books, as he will return to the club next year for the second season of his 18-month sabbatical deal with New Zealand Rugby.
Former Highlanders stars Tom Franklin, Hayden Parker and Richard Buckman are also at the club, as is ex-Chiefs duo Matt vant Leven and Sefo Kautai.
The squad is coached by New Zealand’s Dave Dillon, who is assisted by fellow Kiwi Nick Holten, while former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith is the club’s director of rugby.
The recruitment of 50-test Cruden, who will be expected to link up with the squad once he has completed his commitments with the Chiefs in Super Rugby Aotearoa, acts as a like-for-like replacement for departed playmaker Dan Carter.
Carter ended his two-year stint with Kobelco earlier this year, and has since joined the Blues in Super Rugby Aotearoa as an injury replacement player, but is yet to feature for the Auckland franchise.
Smith, meanwhile, was last contracted to Top 14 club Pau in France, where he made just seven appearances before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2019-20 season.
The 84-test veteran has since returned to Dunedin, where he has enjoyed non-playing roles with his club side Green Island and former school King’s High.
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“I’m really looking forward to joining Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers,” Smith told the club’s website.
“The success of the team over the last few years has a world-class rugby program that allows Kobelco Steelers to bring out their performance.
“I am very competitive and proud that I can contribute to the team. I will do my best to further shine the brilliant history of Kobelco Steelers. I and my family look forward to the opportunity to experience different cultures and lifestyles.”
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