Cruden plays down hopes of All Blacks recall in one-season homecoming

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Former All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden has attempted to play down any thoughts of a recall to the national side with his focus on the Waikato Chiefs before he heads to Japan later this year.

Aaron Cruden of New Zealand kicks a penalty during their international rugby union match against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff November 24, 2012. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The 31-year-old Cruden returned to the Chiefs for the 2020 Super Rugby season after cutting short his contract in France.

Having returned to New Zealand he would be eligible to play for the All Blacks in their mid-year tests against Wales and Scotland and possibly during the Rugby Championship before he heads to Japanese club Kobelco Steelers.

Cruden, who left New Zealand after the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour told reporters in Hamilton on Thursday he was not expecting to add to the 50 All Blacks caps he won before he joined French club Montpellier.

“I haven’t really thought too much about the All Blacks,” Cruden said as he joined the Chiefs for pre-season training. “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 obviously have aspirations of winning a title.”

A World Cup winner in 2011, Cruden would likely be behind incumbents Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Josh Ioane and Damian McKenzie in the pecking order for the national side.

Barrett, however, was principally used as a fullback with Mo’unga at flyhalf last year by former coach Steve Hansen, while McKenzie’s best position is also at fullback and Cruden could force himself back into the equation.

Ian Foster has succeeded Hansen as head coach of the three-times world champions, who were beaten by England in the World Cup semi-finals in Japan last October and is likely to want to stamp his own mark on the side early on.

Cruden was hampered by injury at Montpellier and the club’s owner Mohed Altred said last year he had been disappointed with the flyhalf’s form and injury-plagued seasons.

Despite the Wellington Hurricanes needing a flyhalf to replace Barrett after his move to the Auckland Blues, Cruden said the Chiefs were the only side to reach out to him about a possible return to New Zealand.

“For me, I’m so passionate about the Chiefs, spending time here before I moved away,” Cruden said.

“If I was going to come back, it was hopefully always going to be here in Hamilton.”

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Grant McCool