Market forces at play in Aaron Cruden's move to France

All Black first-five Aaron Cruden looks to offload against Australia. Photo/Photosport
All Black first-five Aaron Cruden looks to offload against Australia. Photo/Photosport

New Zealand Rugby's depth at first-five - and lack of depth in other positions - was a key contributor to Aaron Cruden's move to Montpellier.

The All Black and Chiefs pivot announced a three-year contract with the French Top 14 club this week, effectively ending a 47-test international career.

Manager Bruce Sharrock told Radio Sport's Tony Veitch that NZR worked as hard as it could to keep the 28-year-old veteran, but probably had other priorities, given the other players that are also off contract this year.

"At the end of the day, they made it very clear his importance to both franchise rugby and New Zealand rugby, and within their means, they put something pretty decent in front of him," he said.

"Business is the same the world over. If you've got great depth in a position and only so many spoils you can throw around, then they're going 'we don't want to lose Aaron, but if he did go, how are we placed'.

"There is a pot pourri of options - in my view, not as good as Aaron Cruden and, in some cases, not nearly as good - and it's not the end of the world.

"But in positions, we must retain them and we've got to throw the kitchen sink. That's a business call that's made the world over with sporting sides, when everybody's coming up for contract negotiations."

While Cruden has consistently been in the top two or three All Black first-five options over recent years, he has tended to play second fiddle to Dan Carter and now Beauden Barrett. Behind him, Lima Sopoaga and Damian McKenzie were nipping at his heels, while promising youngsters like Richie Mo'unga and Otere Black wait in the wings.

With overseas clubs also chasing international fullbacks Ben Smith and Israel Dagg, there are far fewer obvious replacements looming for the No 15 jersey.

Sharrock suggests there are other players considering their future. In his own stable, they include centre Malakai Fekitoa, winger Waisake Naholo and flanker Liam Squire.

"All of them are promising players who are going to be looking for a little bit more to hang around, so this is a moving feast," he said.

"The fact of the matter is that the depth behind any one of those determines how much leverage you've got when you go to the table to a degree."

But Cruden's career has also been punctuated by injury and that also impacted on the timing of his decision to sign with Montpellier.

"Aaron is a world-class player. Having fought as hard as he did to get to that position, then to do his knee leading into the 2015 World Cup and then to find that what we all thought was a serious injury, but wasn't, with his neck at Eden Park, there was probably an element of 'here we go again and I'm getting older'."

While tight-head prop tends to be the most valued position in northern hemisphere club rugby, Sharrock insisted five-eighth probably wasn't that far behind and several teams expressed interest in Cruden.

"There were many clubs up in the UK that would give anything and there were at least four that were prepared to give a lot to get a player of his calibre in their environments," he said.

"There were any number at a lesser amount that would have had him. We had to work out, on his behalf, where the clubs were that were going to get into the realms of those financials that would turn his head.

"There were a couple in the UK and a couple in France."

But Sharrock also insisted the foreign dollar wouldn't spark a mass exodus of All Blacks.
"Every player is different and there's a lot more planning goes into this than a lot of people think. It's never a reactionary thing.

"There's a lot of planning goes into where you want to take your career, both on and off the field, and when is the right time to look at markets, if you do want to go.

"If people can generate the income they're satisfied with and the lifestyle they want, and still have the rugby offering, then New Zealand's your place.

"However, we're all human beings, and sometimes the new challenge and new environment and more money can be appealing."

- NZ Herald

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