Can All Black Aaron Cruden adapt to French club rugby?

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

Former NZ-born French international Tony Marsh has raised doubts about whether All Black first-five Aaron Cruden is suited to playing club rugby in France.

Marsh is one of the few players to win back-to-back Super Rugby titles with different teams - Blues in 1997 and Crusaders in 1998 - before signing with Montferrand in France and eventually playing 21 tests for his adopted country.

He told Newstalk ZB's Tony Veitch that Cruden may struggle to adjust to a different playing style, when he takes up a three-year contract with Montpellier, announced this week.

"No doubt, Aaron Cruden is a class player, but I was speaking to one of the guys from Montpellier when I was over there in November and he classes French rugby as the hardest competition in the world.

"I'm not necessarily speaking about the rugby itself, but there are a whole lot of other factors that go with it and a whole lot of pressures that we're not used to."

Marsh highlighted the short four-week turnaround between seasons, the burden of qualifying for European Cup play and avoiding automatic relegation, and the increased standard of players being signed to huge contracts.

"In terms of Aaron Cruden and the style that he plays, would he suit it?" mused Marsh. "I have a bit of a question mark over it and it's nothing against him - it's just the way they play that competition and that 10-man style game of rugby.

"It's still very much forward-orientated. In some respects, they play not to lose, rather than playing to win, so it is a different mentality and a different style of rugby.

"The positive for him is he's got Vern Cotter going to Montpellier also. He's got that Kiwi-style mentality that will help [Cruden], but those will be his challenges along the way."

Marsh even wondered whether current All Black No 10 Beauden Barrett, named 2016 World Player of the Year, would fit the mold.

"You can say Beauden Barrett is the best 10 in world rugby, but I think it's because he plays in the All Blacks.

"Is Aaron Cruden suited to French rugby? Personally, I don't think he is - I don't even think Beauden Barrett is, just because of the style of rugby they play.

"I guess it's horses for courses."

But retired All Black superstar Dan Carter has thrived in the environment with Paris-based Racing 92 and Marsh credits two qualities for that.

"The thing you can't take from DC is that he can kick and he knows how to control a game of rugby. Can Aaron Cruden or Beauden Barrett do that week-in and week-out - I'd question that, personally.

"But I also spoke to Laurent Travers, the Racing coach, and he said, sure, Carter is at the end of his career and isn't playing his best rugby, but the impact he has on the team is unbelievable.

"Everyone around him lifts up another level, and they become a different team and different players."

- NZ Herald

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