Having won a century of Super Rugby caps and half that of the All Blacks, Europe was calling, and Cruden was packing up for what was to be a three-year stint in Montpellier.
It is fair to say that things did not quite turn out as the 31-year-old had hoped.
In the two seasons that Cruden has actually spent in the south of France, his club has played 67 competitive games. The import of Kiwi appeared in less than two-thirds of these games and was used as often as a substitute as a starter.
There were a lot of reports – usually speculative pieces written from outside of France – that the former chef was out of shape, but the truth was that Cruden was not underperforming for Montpellier – he was just underplayed.
“Our outside half, since he’s been here, continues to hurt each other,” Montepellier owner Mohad Altrad told a French store. RugbyRama. “This season, he has been injured four times. It is difficult for him to be effective. We were hoping for something else. “
Although the away club’s management of a player’s performance is somewhat unusual, especially outside of the French rugby conundrum, Altrad’s comments weren’t exactly unfair.
In the six seasons that Cruden spent with the Chiefs, the linchpin has won 89 caps. The Chiefs have only played 104 games in total during this period. While Cruden has struggled during the international seasons, Altrad had every reason to expect his new top five to be on the team list week after week, justifying the € 700,000 a year contract.
Obviously that didn’t happen, but Cruden had no problem activating the form when he was able to play.
“It’s funny, I’ve seen different stories and things saying that [I was off-form] but I really had fun and I thought I was playing pretty well, “said Cruden RugbyPass in an exclusive interview.
“The only thing that was really frustrating was that I kept getting minor injuries, so maybe that was where it came from, but believe me, I was extremely frustrated too.
“Many of the injuries, if not all that I had in France, were muscle injuries. It was a taut calf or hamstring, which I found frustrating because I had had none of this during my stay in New Zealand. It is really difficult to determine exactly why this continues. “
In fact, Cruden was not the only player in Montpellier to have suffered from muscle injuries, coach Vern Cotter rarely being able to choose a top team.
“It was probably something that was actually a bit of a theme among our team there,” said Cruden.
” [I don’t know] whether it’s the training load or maybe the terrains – they can be quite heavy underfoot there, especially during the peak of winter when it can get quite cold and wet enough at times. If I have an injury, I’m still trying to figure out how I could have done things differently – it’s just my personality.
“So, to me, it was just more frustrating than anything else because it was just a calf muscle that could get you out for two or three weeks here and there, but it just kept happening. Normally these injuries are associated with guys who have fast twitch fibers who are sprinters so maybe I was much faster or something when I left for France, I don’t know what it was. “
Whatever the cause, the diminutive playmaker does not regret his decision to head north.
“Being in professional sports, you know that injuries happen,” said Cruden. “You just have to be able to try to park them, get back on the field as quickly as possible and have fun when you get there.
“But I really enjoyed the experience. It was cool to go out there and try a little bit of testing my hand in a different rugby style. This is certainly what I learned while being there; the style of French competition compared to New Zealand and even Super Rugby is very different.
“I always said all the time that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone a bit and I certainly could have done it.”
Anyone who signed in to Super Rugby before it was suspended in March could tell you that Cruden certainly has lost none of the acceleration and ability that made him one of the most dangerous first five years in the world. southern hemisphere before leaving for the north.
At the end of last year, Cruden was approached by the chiefs who offered him the opportunity to return to New Zealand – something that had never really been planned for Cruden and his wife Grace.
“When we made the decision to leave New Zealand, we didn’t think we would go back,” said Cruden. “But, as I’ve experienced throughout my rugby career, you have to be adaptable and you can have a plan, but it doesn’t always work out the way you think.
Anyone who has watched the 2019 Miter 10 Cup would tell you that Lincoln McClutchie was one of the top five exhibits. Why, then, was the pivot not playing Super Rugby this year? @TomVinicombe reveals everything. #SuperRugby #TopLeaguehttps://t.co/1hAsn0fWC6
– RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 7, 2020
And despite rumors that the Cruden could be rung by the Hurricanes, the team for which he played his first two seasons of Super Rugby, to replace the departure of Beauden Barrett, a return home would only result in Cruden for a New Zealand club.
“If we were to come back, it would only be for the chefs,” said Cruden. “I spent six years here before we left and built a lot of good relationships. Obviously, I have a great relationship with the franchise.
“There was an opportunity to come home and play for the Chiefs again, so we sat down and thought about it for a while and it was just something that slowly started to attract me again and that’s why we ended up making the decision to come back here. “
The return immediately produced dividends, the little general pulling the strings again superbly for the team with which he won two championships in 2012 and 2013. Although the future of Cruden is not fixed, there are strong Chances are he will find himself in Japan next year, but his form in 2020 has seen increasing calls for the Manawatu man to receive a black jersey for the international season.
Not all players who return to New Zealand after a trip abroad make such an impressive return, but there is no doubt about Cruden’s still apparent abilities – and by his own admission, he has improved as a player from his left.
“Coming back to Super Rugby this season, I certainly appreciate now the growth that I have had during these few years in France, both in terms of my own game and seeing different styles abroad”, said Cruden.
The Chiefs still have the same mana that made the club such an important factor in Cruden’s development as a player and as a person, although there has been a fairly significant change in personnel since he ended with the team in 2017.
“We have only been gone for two seasons of Super Rugby, but since I left the Chiefs to return this season there have been many new faces,” said Cruden.
“There is always a core of guys who were on the team from my previous visit but at the same time there are a lot of young people and a lot of new faces, both in the coaching team and in the play group.
“I felt a little familiar but also a bit foreign and it was really a nice balance. I remember missing with Anton [Lienert-Brown] and somehow it sounded familiar to me but it was still new and it was always exciting. “
This first game of the year saw the Chiefs score a back win against the Auckland Blues. Cruden left the bench shortly after half-time and helped turn a 19-5 deficit into a 37-29 victory.
“I felt really good [during his return debut]Said Cruden. “Obviously, I had a few butterflies in my stomach but if I don’t have them when I’m about to run out on the field, I probably feel that something is wrong or I am not quite in the right frame. -mind.
“I think getting out of the beach also helped a little bit because I was able to sit in the first half and assess things, get a feel for the atmosphere and the game. I was really excited, more than anything, to come back to play with a team that I am passionate about and to return to a rugby environment that I know very well. “
The Chiefs’ victories against the Crusaders, the Sunwolves and the Waratahs followed, as did the losses of the Brumbies and Hurricanes before the tournament ended in late March due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Cruden was one of the most competitive players in the competition at the time and survived the start of the season without any recursion from the niggles that haunted his time in Montpellier.
“Personally, I was really having fun,” said Cruden.
“The body felt good and the boys were walking pretty well in the chiefs camp and then suddenly you get a big roadblock and things are paused for a little while.
“While I was pretty frustrated, knowing that I didn’t really have control over this, I was just trying to find a little silver lining and it could be spending a little time at home with Grace, my wife and Amelia, our young daughter.
“As a professional rugby player, you are often in training or on the road, traveling and playing games, so you really have some time now to rest, relax and take some pressure on Grace and do daddy chores. was quite fun. Obviously, I always want to get out on the field as soon as possible, but you’re just trying to make the most of the situation before you. “
He will remain one of the best locks of all time, but test centurion Sam Whitelock cannot simply live a reputation with the All Blacks. @bensmithrugby writes that the odds are against Whitelock around the next World Cup. #AllBlacks https://t.co/eJ9bYt3VuI
– RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 6, 2020
With Super Rugby poised to return in the near future, Cruden will soon have the chance to return to the field with his Chiefs brothers – although they will start from scratch for the new competition exclusively from New Zealand.
It’s probably not the season the former All Black would have expected when he first signed to return for the Chiefs, but, as Cruden alluded to, professional rugby rarely goes as planned.
Running for the New Zealand U20 team in 2009, Cruden never expected him to leave Hurricane territory in the not too distant future to win two Super Rugby titles and win nearly 100 selections for Chiefs. Nor would he have expected him to end up being capped by the All Blacks, let alone playing 50 games with the national team.
The subsequent move to Montpellier, where things didn’t really go as planned due to continuing injuries, was just another turning point in the history of the experienced pivot.
“Yes, I know there have been people who have said that I am struggling there, but from my point of view, it was pretty cool to be able to experience this culture and play a different style and learn a lot about the games, “said Cruden. “Being able to bring that back to Super Rugby this year was also pretty cool.
“I think if I were not going to do that, I would probably be sitting here wondering” and what? “. For me, being able to go do this and still have the opportunity to come back has been great and these are certainly experiences which, when I retire and rethink, I might think it was cool to go for experiences different and give it a real crack.
“I’m just glad that, touch the wood, I hope all these things are behind me and I was able to come back to Super Rugby and the body felt good, the legs resisted pretty well, and I hope that we can get back on the field and they keep doing me good as long as the season lasts. “
Join our mailing list for a weekly summary of the vast world of rugby.