Cruden gets the thumbs up to return this week
Aaron Cruden is optimistic he has fully recovered from his broken thumb and should be ready to make his comeback against the Hurricanes in Wellington next Saturday night.
That isn't just good news for Chiefs coach Dave Rennie; it will also be welcomed by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen who will be without Dan Carter for next month's three-test series against England.
First five-eighth Cruden, who is with the All Blacks training group in Christchurch until Tuesday, has not been sighted in Super Rugby since suffering the injury after the Chiefs drew 43-all with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on April 6.
"The thumb seems to be healing pretty well. I had an X-ray yesterday and I talked to the Chiefs doctor and he seems pretty happy with it and hopefully I will take the field in Wellington," Cruden said.
"I have been in Hamilton with the team, just doing my own sort of training. We had the bye last week so I want to Bali and sort of got away from it all for a week which has been really nice. I got back in the country last night."
The absence of Carter, who has used his sabbatical to travel the world and rehabilitate ankle and Achilles tendon injuries, presents Cruden with another golden opportunity to prove to Hansen why he deserves to be considered a genuine challenger for the No 10 jersey that has largely been Carter's since 2005.
Also included in the All Blacks 35-man training squad are fellow first-fives Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade.
Cruden, if fully fit, is expected to start the first test against England at Eden Park.
Before breaking his thumb he was instrumental in pushing the Chiefs to the top of the New Zealand conference, and although their form has been shaky over the last month they have done well to stay in pole position.
The matchup between Cruden and Canes first-five Barrett will be keenly anticipated by the All Blacks selectors and fans alike.
"It (the thumb) feels good, it feels nice and strong," Cruden added. "I got the cast off last week and am just moving it around again. Hopefully next weekend I will be back out on the paddock."
Cruden will start some ball work next week. He expects to have some nerves ahead of contact training and said if he didn't feel the thumb was fully healed he would not rush back.
"But by all accounts the doctors are pretty happy with how it's healing and how it's formed and we'll be into it next week."
Meanwhile, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said he had few concerns about the sight of Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa walking around in a moonboot at the team hotel in central Christchurch yesterday morning.
"He's just got a foot strain so medical staff don't want him to put too much weight on it. I'm sure he will be fine by Saturday. I know it looks serious and dramatic but medical staff are saying he's going to be OK."
The Highlanders host the Crusaders in Dunedin next weekend.
Hansen is unlikely to use the England series to as a chance to development fringe players, suggesting he will not look beyond Keven Mealamu and Dane Coles as his hookers.
Liam Coltman and Nathan Harris are being groomed as potential options to back-up the pair and Hansen noted Corey Flynn could provide emergency cover until he leaves for France in August.
"There's lots of ways we can cut that cake if we need to," Hansen said.