Chiefs fly-half Aaron Cruden is set to make his much anticipated return to rugby in his homeland in the coming weeks as the 2020 Super Rugby begins and it has got fans tongues wagging.
The 31-year-old, who is returning to New Zealand following a two-year stint in France with Montpellier, has excited fans with his return and they are now wondering if he may get another chance to play for the All Blacks.
Before his departure to France Cruden picked up 50 caps for his country, but has failed to add to that due to his move abroad. However, his return goes hand in hand with change in the All Blacks set-up as Ian Foster begins his reign as head coach.
Entering a new era in All Blacks history could mean that a slot could open up for Cruden to put his hand up for selection if he can hit the ground running for the Chiefs, with Beauden Barrett’s position in the team still up for debate with many preferring him as a full-back.
Meanwhile, Richie Mo’unga is a natural No 10, but some appear to have question marks over his place in the team.
However, despite all the talk as to the possibility of his return to the national side Cruden insists he isn’t thinking about anything other than the task at hand with the Chiefs.
“I just want to contribute to each environment I’m in and haven’t thought too much about the All Blacks. I’ve been removed from that environment for a few seasons and there have been a lot of changes in that scene as well,” he said while speaking to the media.
A stumbling block in fans hope for his return to the national fold is that he is set to leave the Chiefs after just one season and head to Japan where he will play for the Kobelco Steelers, meaning he may not be a long-term option and therefore not come into Foster’s thoughts.
Whatever happens on the national scene Cruden’s return to the franchise where he won two Super Rugby titles in his first stint sees him link up with new head coach Warren Gatland and he was full of praise for the former Wales head coach.
“His pedigree speaks for itself, you can see what he’s been able to do with the Welsh national side. He’s obviously a passionate Waikato/Chiefs man and having him back in the region will do wonders for this team. He’s brought his own style and structure to training and, talking to a lot of the boys they are really energised. It’s a lot more player-driven with coaches there to provide guidance and a bit of structure, giving the players the allowance and energy to bring things to life which is awesome,” he added.
Although unlikely the talk of Cruden’s possible comeback in an All Blacks jersey will not go away any time soon and if he can impress this season who knows what might happen.
For now he has his sights on the Chiefs and with their season opener against the Blues fast approaching Cruden will hope to help him and Gatland get off to the perfect start on their return to New Zealand.
Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby
London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.
The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.
O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011.
He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017.
O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation.
On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.
“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions.
“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years.
“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy.
“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.
“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland.
“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.
“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old.
“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport.
“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.
“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them.
“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.
“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us.
“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.
“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career.
“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey.
“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family.
“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years.
“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.
“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then.
“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.
“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be.
“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”
Ryan And Baird Ruled Out Of Scotland Game. 2 called up.
The Ireland squad returned to Dublin on Saturday evening following the victory over England at Twickenham and reassembled at Carton House on Sunday evening.
James Ryan will not be considered for selection this week and his return to rugby protocols will be supervised by the Leinster Medical Team. Ryan Baird is ruled out of the final fixture of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations with a back issue.
Uncapped locks Ross Molony and Joe McCarthy have been called up to train with the squad. Ross has been involved in Ireland squads since the summer of 2021 while Joe, a former Ireland U20 player, made his Leinster debut against Cardiff in January having impressed for Dublin University in the Energia AIL.
Robert Baloucoune, Nick Timoney and Mike Lowry all return after lining out for Ulster in the URC against Leinster at the weekend.
Ireland play Scotland in the final round of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championship on Saturday 19th March at 4.45pm. The game is being televised by Virgin (ROI) and ITV (NI).
Ireland Squad Round 5 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championships
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 36 caps
Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen) 2 caps
Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 31 caps
Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht) 11 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 5 caps
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 30 caps
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 16 caps
Mack Hansen (Connacht) 3 caps
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 56 caps
James Hume (Ulster/Banbridge) 3 caps
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 19 caps
James Lowe (Leinster) 11 caps
Michael Lowry (Ulster/Banbridge) 1 cap
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 95 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 41 caps
Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 104 caps CAPTAIN
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 22 caps
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 29 caps
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 26 caps
Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) 2 caps
Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 16 caps
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 56 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 115 caps
Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 6 caps
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 67 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 25 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 47 caps
Jeremy Loughman (Munster/Garryowen) uncapped
Joe McCarthy (Leinster/Dublin) uncapped
Ross Molony (Leinster/UCD) uncapped
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 83 caps
Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 6 caps
Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) 2 caps
Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) 4 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 39 caps
Johnny Sexton Signs Contract Extension to 2023 Rugby World Cup￼
Ireland and Leinster out-half Johnny Sexton has signed a contract extension up until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
In November Johnny earned his 100th cap for Ireland against Japan and played a pivotal role in Ireland’s third defeat of New Zealand. He hit the milestone of 500 Six Nations Championship points against Wales in Round 1 of this year’s tournament and has represented Ireland on 103 occasions to date.
The former World Player of the Year was appointed Ireland captain by Andy Farrell in January 2020 and has led the team to ten victories in his 13 game tenure as the on field general.
Johnny made his international debut against Fiji in November 2009 and has represented Ireland at three Rugby World Cups (2011, 2015 & 2019). Johnny is a two time Lions tourist (2013 & 2017) and has won three Six Nations titles with Ireland and five European Cups with Leinster. He has represented his provinces on 178 occasions, scoring 1549 points.
David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented: “Johnny’s performances continue to be of the highest standard and he remains an integral member of the Ireland and Leinster squads. He has always been a leader on the field and in the past two years since taking on the Ireland captaincy his leadership off it has been top class. Johnny is a generational player and we are delighted that he has extended to 2023.”
Johnny Sexton, commented: “I always said that if I am enjoying my rugby and the Ireland and Leinster set-ups believe I can add value to the environment then it would be an easy decision to sign another contract. There is some great talent coming through at Leinster at present and I am excited about the prospect of competing at a fourth World Cup with Ireland and the potential for growth in this group between now and then.”