WELLINGTON: Aaron Cruden may still have a role to play for the All Blacks this year before the Waikato Chiefs flyhalf swaps Super Rugby for Japan's Top League, new national coach Ian Foster has said.
The 31-year-old, who returned to the Chiefs for the 2020 season after cutting short a contract in France, will head to Kobe later this year and has played down suggestions he could be recalled to the national side.
Overseas-based players are ineligible for All Blacks selection, a policy seen as key to avoiding a drain of talent to northern hemisphere clubs.
Cruden has been in strong form in the first two weeks of Super Rugby and Foster, who watched the Chiefs beat the Canterbury Crusaders last Saturday, said he thought the flyhalf was eligible for All Blacks selection.
"I think so," Foster told Sky Sports late on Tuesday when asked if Cruden was available for tests against Wales and Scotland in July and possibly the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship.
"To be fair we know he's off to Japan at the end of the year and what that looks like I don't know the exact detail.
"But I'd like to think so."
Cruden played 50 tests for the All Blacks before leaving New Zealand for France after the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour.
He was considered heir apparent to all-time great Dan Carter after the 2015 Rugby World Cup but injury saw him supplanted by Beauden Barrett.
Foster has not ruled out continuing to play Barrett at fullback in a dual-playmaker system the All Blacks utilised last year with Richie Mo'unga at flyhalf.
The Otago Highlanders' Josh Ioane, who was part of the All Blacks squad last year before making his test debut against Tonga just before the World Cup in Japan, could also be in the reckoning.
Foster, who served as Steve Hansen's assistant for eight years before succeeding his former boss last December, said he was excited about the future direction of the side.