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Aaron Cruden signs for Montpellier

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 17/01/2017

All Blacks first-five Aaron Cruden will pack his bags and head to Montpellier for the 2017-18 Top 14 season after signing a lucrative three-year deal.

The 28-year-old, who is also the Chiefs co-captain, confirmed the decision after enduring a frustrating 2017 in the black jumper, losing the No. 10 shirt to livewire Beauden Barrett.

Despite being relegated to a bench role, New Zealand Rugby pulled out all the stops to keep Cruden on the Shaky Isles and publicly asked him to stay.

But in a video posted online on Wednesday he confirmed with "great sadness but also excitement" that 2017 will be his final year playing rugby in New Zealand for Manawatu, the Chiefs and All Blacks.

"Three teams that I love dearly and with great sadness that at the end of Super Rugby this year I'll be saying goodbye to," he said in a video revealing his plans to join the French team.

"(It's) a beautiful part of the world, a fantastic rugby club and a real opportunity to I guess go out there, experience something different, something fresh ... it's going to be a fantastic challenge that I have ahead," the Palmerston North native said.

He'll reportedly earn almost $1.2 million per year and work under the tutelage of new Les Cistes boss and compatriot Vern Cotter.

Cotter takes over at the Top 14 club in June, having coached Scotland for the past three Test campaigns, including the 2015 World Cup.

NZ Rugby boss Steve Tew said last month that off-contract stalwarts such as Cruden, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg were still needed within the Test set-up.

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."

Cruden will likely make his All Blacks swan song in June and July's British and Irish Lions tour.

"If the future holds an All Blacks jersey in the Lions series I'll be working my butt off to make sure that happens," he said.

He'll go with plenty of accolades to his name, including the 2011 World Cup, two Super Rugby titles and five Rugby Championships.

Yet despite the trophy haul, coach Steve Hansen said at the end of November's northern tour that Cruden's story in the black jumper wasn't yet complete.

He urged the playmaker, who has scored 322 Test points, to stay.

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