He has been referred to as “like a son” to Dave Rennie, so it is little wonder that the Kiwi coach wants to add Montpellier’s under-utilised stand-off Aaron Cruden to Glasgow’s roster of players next season. One insider suggested that the deal was 70 per cent likely to happen, so watch this space.
The rumours in France suggest that Montpellier’s owner Mohed Altrad has been attempting to offload Cruden for some time now and, in Rennie, he may just have found the only buyer in town. Cruden has one more year left on his contract but Montpellier are unlikely to demand any compensation. Top14 clubs are required to field 16 Frenchman in their match day 23 from next season and even they are feeling the pinch.
The Kiwi is said to be earning approximately 700,000 euros per annum at Montpellier which is big bucks for someone who, according to one French journalist, has enjoyed two good games since arriving in France.
Glasgow will pay less than that for him, with Murrayfield throwing their tuppence into the pot to sweeten the deal. Cruden is likely to accept something in the £400,000-£450,000 region, to re-boot his career and be united with his favourite coach, which is still plenty of beans in an era of relative austerity.
A quick glance at the list of All Blacks who have ‘graced’ Scottish rugby in the past shows a lot more misses than hits. With the admirable exception of Todd Blackadder, it is a sorry tale of the lame and elderly who, taken out of the all-embracing, all-achieving All Black environment, can be reduced to pretty ordinary players.
Rennie knows Cruden of old since the No 10 first played for him for New Zealand 20s, Manawatu and then the Super Rugby winning Chiefs. The New Zealand Herald wrote: “The relationship developed to father-son type status” but the paper also trumpeted Rennie’s ability to inspire the “no-name” players, the also-rans in the squad, an accolade that looks less applicable now that the coach is chasing a 50-cap All Black.
A fully fit and firing Cruden would be an asset to any team. He is supremely gifted playmaker, quick, brave, imaginative, who likes a dry track and will appreciate Glasgow’s plastic pitch more than most.
However Cruden is beset by a troublesome calf injury that has restricted his Top 14 appearances to six last season and another six (before this weekend) this time out. That is a worry.
Even assuming the 30-year-old Kiwi has several good years left in his perilously slight frame, his hiring still begs a number of questions with the obvious one on the lips of all Glasgow fans: why not spend the money on keeping Finn Russell or Stuart Hogg at Scotstoun?
In fairness, Russell’s form last season strongly suggested the stand-off was ready for a move and he looks far happier at Racing’92 than he did last season under Rennie.
But leave Russell aside for now and ask what Cruden’s signing means for this Glasgow squad? Attracting a 50-cap All Black to Scotstoun would make a statement after losing two big names, Cruden brings oodles of experience and the Kiwi is said to be generous in sharing the intellectual property he has accumulated over the years, some of which will undoubtedly help in Adam Hastings’ development.
But the one thing a young flyhalf needs above all is time in the saddle and, on the basis that you don’t buy a dog and bark yourself, the All Black flyhalf will inevitably eat into the younger man’s game time.
Does Scottish rugby need another foreign flyhalf? Edinburgh already have two, Jaco van der Walt and Simon Hickey. Glasgow boasts the next two Scots in the taxi rank behind Russell, Hastings and Peter Horne. Bring Cruden in and he naturally jumps to the top of the pile even though he is second/third choice at Montpellier, behind South African Johan Goosen and perhaps even the 20-year-old Frenchman Thomas Darmon.
And finally you have to ask what Glasgow need to take the next step of their journey? Would Cruden have made a tangible difference against the power of Saracens? Do the Warriors need an aging All Black flyhalf or do they need added dynamism up front; a ball carrying eight, a bowling ball of a six and a big, athletic lock with a side serving of attitude, all of whom would help strengthen Glasgow’s fragile foundations and help them compete with the European elite.
Glasgow already have a very able ten in Hastings and while Rennie obviously needs World Cup reserves he already has one in the Scottish- qualified Brandon Thomson who impresses on the rare opportunities he is handed the keys to the car. Ruaridh Jackson could back up the back up, at least during RWC’19, if he gets another contract.
Player recruitment has to take into account two, occasionally competing, interests, the individual club and Scotland’s wider aspirations.
Rennie is always going to do what is right for Glasgow, that is what he is paid to do, but in the absence of the former director of rugby Scott Johnson, who at Murrayfield is now looking after the broader interests of Scottish rugby?