You get the feeling that Aaron Cruden is more than comfortable with his decision to return to New Zealand from Europe, because he couldn't have a bigger smile on his face.

The 31-year old is set to take on a similar but crucial leadership role when he pulls on the Chiefs jersey again for 2020.

A lot has changed since he was last here, not only in the playing group but also the management team, so it's been about building relationships for Cruden as he settles back into Hamilton.

Talking with media after a Chiefs training session Cruden said: "For me, it's been really exciting to meet a lot of new people and build those relationships, with the young group that we have, it's all about trying to teach and develop quality rugby players."


The experience and knowledge of everything Chiefs that Cruden brings back into the ranks won't just solve a big headache in the backline if all goes to plan.

It is also potentially a big weight off Warren Gatland who will still be learning the best way to make the playmakers tick along together come Super Rugby round one on January 31 when the Chiefs meet the Blues at Eden Park.

What's more, you get the sense that Cruden knows all this and is comfortable with the various roles he'll be asked to play on and off the field.

"I'm the elder statesman by quite a way now so that's going to be a cool transition. I'll just try to contribute and help out as much as I can, there are a lot of fresh faces so it's about building the talent and depth for the next generation."

French club Montpelier just didn't turn out the way Cruden had hoped, but with his injuries and other frustrations behind him, what awaits at the Chiefs takes on a familiar tone where the end goal is always in sight.

Perhaps, the comfort you sense in Cruden comes from a reality that here he will have a lot more control about just how he contributes, and potentially, much more of a say.

If all goes to plan, Cruden plays mostly at first-five, an area where the Chiefs have some exciting talent to develop; 22-year old Tiaan Falcon, widely seen as a bright prospect for the future, is one player in particular that Cruden is looking forward to working with.

Falcon has already had the supportive ear of Cruden two years ago, calling the seasoned veteran on the phone for advice when weighing up a future with the Hurricanes or a potential fresh start with the Chiefs.


"Before I left New Zealand, Tiann gave me a phone call because he was in the process of deciding his future. We sat and had a good chat, he's a top man with great talent so I am looking forward to working with him and other young talent."

Nothing about the role is too dissimilar from the last time Cruden pulled on a Chiefs' jersey, and as a two-time Super Rugby winner where he played a big part, that can only bode well for the Chiefs as yet another Super Rugby campaign kicks off.

Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist based in Hamilton and covers rugby, cricket and social issues.