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World Cup winner Aaron Cruden reveals he almost joined Crusaders

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Rugby World Cup-winning All Black Aaron Cruden has revealed he was “pretty close” to joining the Crusaders this season after fielding a call from assistant coach James Marshall.

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Cruden, 35, is one of the more prolific New Zealand first-fives in Super Rugby history. After debuting for the Hurricanes, the playmaker went on to help the Chiefs win back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

But after leaving New Zealand’s shores for a second to pursue an opportunity with Japanese club Kobelco Steelers three years ago, it seemed that the former All Blacks No. 10’s career in the prestigious rugby competition was over.

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The Chiefs centurion has done a fair bit of pre-game analysis on Sky Sport NZ this season, but in an incredible twist, Cruden could’ve laced up the boots and taken to the field himself after receiving a career lifeline from a struggling Kiwi franchise.

“I was pretty tempted and pretty close,” Cruden said on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“But a lot of the decision I’ve probably made, especially this year around rugby… it’s been more based around the family and just making sure that that really fit for everyone.

“It was tough from a personal point of view, as a competitor I’m pretty keen to still play.

“But I think prioritising my family right now was certainly the way.”

Cruden, who was injured during the Rugby World Cup final in 2011, is currently a free agent after a few years in Japan with Kobe and Tokyo Sungoliath. The former All Black did return home last season though to play for Waikato.

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The first-five played four matches in the National Provincial Championship, including two starts, which also included a two-try display in the win over Otago at home in round eight. But the step back up to Super Rugby level, by all accounts, is a tough one.

Richie Mo’unga is no longer there at the Crusaders, and the likes of Leigh Halfpenny and Fergus Burke are unavailable at the moment, which is what opened the door for Cruden to potentially run out in the Crusaders’ famed No. 10 jumper.

But it wasn’t to be.

“I’m not sure if I could have helped down there right now anyway,” Cruden continued.

“Maybe a little bit of experience, but those young guys getting that exposure, I think they’ll certainly be better for it in that Crusaders 10 jersey.

“It just doesn’t quite fit timing wise,” he mentioned. “But I did obviously say to them I really appreciated the offer and the interest in a 35-year-old veteran that’s still got a bit of game.”

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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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