Super Rugby 2020: Chiefs title more important for Aaron Curden than All Blacks recall

Winning a third Super Rugby title for the Chiefs is Aaron Cruden's top priority for 2020, as he downplays any talk of an All Blacks return. 

Cruden, who was revealed as a marquee signing in November, is back with the Chiefs for one season, after signing from French club Montpellier.

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

After the coming season, Cruden will head to Kobe Kobelco Steelers, where former NZ teammate Dan Carter currently plays. 

At 31, Cruden is the oldest player on the Chiefs roster. He (114) and Sam Cane (111) are the only players with more than 100 games of Super Rugby experience. 

Of the 39-man squad, 31 have less than 50 Super Rugby caps, so the Chiefs will count on Cruden's experience, if they want to win a third title.    

"Looking around, I'm the elder statesman by a long way," Cruden said on Thursday. "I'll try to contribute and help with these young ones, and be the old guy." 

Now Cruden is back in New Zealand, he's eligible to play for the All Blacks again, but wearing the black jersey is very low on his priority list. 

Before leaving in 2017, he played 50 tests, his last coming in the drawn test against the British & Irish Lions. 

Lifting the Super Rugby trophy is more important to the experienced pivot. 

Aaron Cruden with Wayne Smith after winning the 2012 Super Rugby title.
Aaron Cruden with Wayne Smith after winning the 2012 Super Rugby title. Photo credit: Photosport

"I haven't really thought too much about the All Blacks. I've been removed from that environment for a few seasons and there's been a lot of changes in that scene.

"Coming back is more about contributing to the Chiefs and we have aspirations of winning a title."

Cruden enjoyed mixed success in France, largely due to injuries that kept him off the field. 

"The experience was awesome. The rugby is very different to what we're used to here in New Zealand.

"They have their way of doing things, which is cool - that's the French style - and I enjoyed the challenge. 

"I put myself out of my comfort zone and challenged myself in different areas. You learn a different style of rugby. 

"I had a few little hiccups - well, not hiccups, just injuries - over there and it was frustrating. You go to a new environment and you want to contribute. 

"I think, when I was on the field, I was able to do that. 

"If you can speak French and ask some of the players over there, hopefully, they have kind things to say about me."

Cruden was linked to several clubs during his time in France, including a rumoured reunion with recently appointed Wallabies coach Dave Rennie at Glasgow, while the Hurricanes were also reportedly interested in his services. 

But Cruden never considered those options. 

"[Hurricanes centre] Ngani Laumape sent me a private message to see what I was doing, but there was no direct contact from the 'Canes. 

Aaron Cruden with Damian McKenzie.
Damian McKenzie with Aaron Cruden. Photo credit: Photosport

"I'm so passionate about the Chiefs and if I was to come back, it was always going to be here with the crew I'm with now."  

Following a mass player exodus of experienced players across all Super Rugby franchises, Cruden feels the New Zealand conference is wide open this year. 

"There has been a big exodus and experience leaving New Zealand. If you look at the Super Rugby franchises, they're pretty even.

"There is a lot of exciting young talent, with a few experienced guys in the mix too, so the team who can bind it all together, create a culture and environment with guys that are willing to put their bodies on the line, then those teams do quite well."  

The Chiefs also have new coach Warren Gatland and although Cruden has only trained with the team for a few days, he's impressed with what he's seen.

"[Gatland's] pedigree speaks for itself. He's a passionate Waikato man, so to have him back here will do wonders for our team. 

"The boys are looking good, there is a good vibe, but there is lots of work to do during the season. 

"He's brought his own style and lots of the boys are energised by that."

The Chiefs face a pre-season hitout against the Blues in Waihi next Friday and face the northerners again in their Super Rugby season-opener at Eden Park on January 31.