All Black Cruden inks Montpellier deal

by AFP

World Cup-winning New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden said Wednesday he had signed a three-year contract with French club Montpellier, ending months of speculation about his future.

The deal begins in August this year, meaning he will still be eligible for the All Blacks against the touring British and Irish Lions.

"It's with great sadness but also excitement that (I confirm) this will be my last year playing rugby here in New Zealand," Cruden said in a video statement released by his Super Rugby team the Waikato Chiefs.

The 28-year-old, who has fallen behind Beauden Barrett in the All Blacks' pecking order, said moving to Montpellier - where he will be coached by fellow Kiwi Vern Cotter - represented a "fantastic challenge".

"(It's) a beautiful part of the world, a fantastic rugby club and a real opportunity to go out there and experience something different, something fresh," he said. "That really excites me."

Aaron Cruden during All Blacks training. Photo: AFPCruden has earned 47 caps since his Test debut in 2010 and played a major role in the All Blacks' 2011 World Cup win. But he was understudy to the legendary Dan Carter early in his international career and more recently has been eclipsed by Barrett, the 2016 World Rugby player of the year.

He is one of three high-profile All Blacks targeted by French clubs, with Ben Smith and Israel Dagg also believed to be weighing up offers.

Media reports said Cruden would earn 800,000 euros ($856,000) a year, far in excess of the salary that New Zealand Rugby could offer.

Cruden did not reveal any figures in his statement but said there had been some inaccuracies in reports about the deal.

The All Blacks refuse to select players who are not New Zealand based, which is why Cruden has delayed his France move until after the June-July Lions tour.

"If the future holds an All Blacks jersey for me in the Lions series, I'll be working my butt off to hopefully make sure that happens," - Aaron Cruden

But he acknowledged that the union couldn't compete with the megabucks on offer in European rugby, particularly France and Ireland.

"They all know we love them to death and we'd love them to stay, but they've got to make their decision," Tew said.

"We continue to work really hard to create great environments for our players."