Chiefs coach Colin Cooper has ruled out the prospect of Aaron Cruden returning to the franchise to alleviate their first-five injury woes.
Speaking to media today, Cooper said that he would look for domestically-based players to fill the void left by star playmaker Damian McKenzie and young pivot Tiaan Falcon, both of whom have been ruled out for the season with ACL and Achilles injuries, respectively.
Former Rebels first-five Jack Debreczeni, who played at fullback during the Chiefs’ 23-17 loss to the Lions in Hamilton last weekend, was carried from the field during half-time after suffering his second concussion in a month, leaving the Chiefs thin on options at No. 10.
Marty McKenzie is the only fully contracted first-five left at Cooper’s disposal, but he defused suggestions that he would bring Cruden back to Waikato Stadium from Montpellier in the Top 14, where he won two Super Rugby titles during his time with the Chiefs between 2012 and 2017.
“I don’t see that as a foreseeable option,” he told Stuff on Tuesday.
“He’s contracted [to Montpellier], so we’ll look at what we’ve got in our own group, in our region, and around the country.”
Cooper’s sentiments echoes the statement made by Chiefs chief executive Michael Collins last week, who told Newstalk ZB that Cruden’s return to the franchise was not “realistic”.
“In a perfect world, with Damian going down, that would be wonderful but what I understand is he’s contracted to his French club and that season doesn’t end until May or June,” he said.
“I don’t think he’ll be back playing for the Chiefs this year.”
Rumours had arisen in the wake of McKenzie’s injury that Cruden could play for the Chiefs at the end of this season and for the whole of next season in a move which would make him eligible for this year’s World Cup, with Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga the only clear-cut candidates as first-fives for the All Blacks.
However, Cooper’s and Collins’ words should put speculation of a shock return to New Zealand to bed, especially with Scottish Pro14 outfit, the Glasgow Warriors, led by ex-Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, circling for Cruden’s signature.
Instead, Cooper will have Stephen Donald, who came into the squad earlier in the season as injury cover due to a similar crisis in the lead-up to their season-opener against the Highlanders, as a potential replacement, while young midfielder Orbyn Leger, another wider training squad member, started at first-five in that clash.
Either one of those players could feature for the side as early as this week, as the Chiefs prepare to take on the Hurricanes in Wellington.
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