By DEBORAH GRACE HADY.
I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Aaron Cruden, who might just be the loveliest All Black I’ve ever met. But then again, he’s the only All Black I’ve ever met. Aaron shares his experience in writing The Beginner’s Guide To Rugby, the challenges and highlights of being an All Blacks player, and great life advice for all of us!
Hi Aaron, how are you? You are doing a book tour at the moment?
Yeah, I’m good! We’re doing a book tour just around the top of the North Island. I’ve been in Hamilton, Auckland for the last few days, it’s been really nice.
Is it something you’ve always wanted to do, publish a book?
No, it’s not actually. It’s something I thought I would never do, but I got approached by Random House to put the book together and I was excited about the opportunity. It’s been really refreshing and rewarding for me. I guess most rugby players do autobiographies... but for me it’s more about the awareness for people who want to get into sports.
What’s your favorite part of writing a book?
Probably, it sounds a little silly, but... taking a trip down memory lane. I had to think of the experience I had as a kid. In your day-to-day life now you don’t really think of the fun memories that you had growing up. It was really cool to look back at certain games and certain teams I played for, and the friends I was able to meet who I’m still friends with today.
So obviously, writing book comes with challenges. What was difficult about it?
Probably, because I’m involved in rugby day-to-day, it was making the words simple to understand. I talk rugby every day, so it’s really easy for me to understand it and talk to people who understand the game of rugby very well. But for the book, we wanted to strip it back, put it in simple terms, so that anyone can pick up the book, read through it and be able to understand what the game of rugby is about.
Well, you certainly did a good job. I made my mum read the book, and she knows nothing about rugby, but she’s a fan now. It must have been really different, though, writing a book from what you do with rugby.
It is extremely different, yes. It’s been really cool when young kids come up to me and ask for a photo or to have the book signed. For me, that’s why I wanted to do a book – you know, to help a kid or an adult to get into the game of rugby – and that’s been a win for me.
If you had to choose between rugby and writing books....
It will still be rugby for me. I know my rugby career is not going to last forever, so maybe I could, at the end of my career, write a couple more books. I would love to. Maybe a children’s storybook or an autobiography.
What does being an All Black mean to you?
It means so much to me. I’ve dreamed about being an All Black ever since I was a kid. And now to be able to sit here, as an All Black, is something I’m extremely proud of. I continue to strive for new goals and this year it will be to make the All Blacks again, and head over to the World Cup.
Being an All Black, so many kids and adults look up to you and see you as a role model. Does that put extra pressure on what you do?
Yeah, there’s definitely pressure on what we do, as a role model and as an All Black. It’s something we understand, and we don’t take it very lightly. The most joy we get is, after a game, signing autographs for young kids. Because I remember being that young kid. If I got the opportunity to meet an All Black, it would just make my day, make my week. And now that I get to do that, it just makes me really happy.
You’ve had an amazing rugby career, but there must have been some lows. What was your biggest challenge?
There have been quite a few. Maybe it was getting dropped from the All Blacks early on in my career. That was a hard experience and it made me a lot stronger, it made me determined to go back to that All Blacks environment. Since I’ve been able to do that, I just don’t take it for granted, I continue to work hard and be a better player and person. That’s an experience I can look back on, and I don’t think I’d change it, because if I didn’t have that experience then I wouldn’t be sitting where I am right now.
And what has been your favorite lesson as an All Blacks player?
My mum always told me and my brothers to always have fun. Obviously you have got to work hard – without the hard work you won’t achieve much – but you gotta have fun.
In the book, one of my favorite bits was the page with the pictures of the stadiums you’ve played in. What’s your favorite stadium?
I think it is a draw between Twickenham, which is in London, over in England and also Johannesburg in South Africa. I’ve played some great stadiums around the world, I’ve just been really fortunate.
And you might have a chance to play at Twickenham again this year...
Yeah, fingers crossed! That’s definitely the plan – to be involved in the world cup and bring the cup over to New Zealand!
Yeah! Well, in a world that’s going digital, where everyone’s just Googling stuff, why do you think a book is still so important?
I love just being able to pick up a book and feel it in your hands and flip the pages – I know it’s quite old school and things are always evolving, but I just love the nature of reading a book, getting lost in the storyline for hours.
Who’s your inspiration? Who are your heroes?
My rugby heroes are probably guys like Jonah Lomu, Jeff Wilson, Christian Cullen. I loved watching them play when I was growing up. But my off-field hero would be my mum. She’s always just been there for me and my brothers, she’s always supported me and she’s worked so hard, and I wouldn’t be sitting here without her.
She must be really proud of you, then.
Yeah, she is. She is extremely proud. She still lives in Palmerston North and it’s really hard for me, living in Hamilton. I don’t get to go back as often as I would like, but I still talk to her over the phone. She really enjoyed the book. She knows rugby, she has been around rugby for so long too, and she’s really happy with what I’ve put out.
Do you have a favorite book genre then? Favorite authors?
I like different styles. At the moment, I’m reading the Divergent series, so that’s a little bit different for me. I like the crime books, the prison stories. I do remember reading The Power of One, it’s a Bryce Courtenay classic, and it was pretty inspiring.
So this book gives a lot of advice on how to become a rugby player, but what do you think is key to becoming a successful rugby player?
Being really motivated and driven. Understand what your goals are, write them down so you can see them visually, and understand what you need to do to achieve them. If you have fun along the way, that will make it worthwhile. With rugby and sports, you have to be pretty strict on your nutrition and hydration, and even recovery. It’s understanding all those aspects of being the best rugby player you can be.
Most kids in New Zealand want to be All Blacks. What do you think make an All Black, an All Black?
That’s a good question! I’m not sure, I think just a lot of hard work and commitment and being really clear on what you want to achieve and just going out there and having fun and hopefully everything falls in place for you. Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do anything. If you want to achieve it, then go out there and make it happen. I think that’s important for everybody in all aspects of life.
In Review: The Beginners Guide to Rugby
Author: Aaron Cruden
Publisher: Random House
Reviewed by: Deborah Grace Hady
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Like your average person living in NZ, I’m a fan of the All Blacks. I know 2015 is a Rugby World Cup year. I held my breath along with the nation when Dan Carter was ruled out of the 2011 World Cup. I cheered when we finally lifted the Webb Ellis trophy. But do I know anything about rugby?
Aaron Cruden is one of New Zealand’s great rugby players. He plays for Chiefs in Super Rugby, is an All Black, and now, he’s written a new book, The Beginner’s Guide To Rugby, which aims to strip rugby back to the basics.
In the book, Aaron shares his extensive knowledge on rugby – from the rules, to basic skills, to expert moves, and “how fun rugby can be”.
The Beginner’s Guide To Rugby dishes out handy step-by-step tips to becoming a successful rugby player. It is filled with little checklists and activities that readers can do to practice their rugby skills.
Taking us for a trip down memory lane, Aaron shares his personal experiences of playing professional rugby – the highs and lows of his rugby career so far. Young rugby players will love it – the book is colorfully illustrated, complete with behind the scenes pictures of the life of an All Black.
So, although I called myself a rugby fan, did I know anything about rugby? Well, that’s a big fat no. Rugby terms flew past me – a 'try' I knew, but 'scrums', 'lineouts', 'mauls' are words I have never understood. Until now. Reading Aaron’s book, I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the game of rugby. I have to admit though, I still cannot kickstart a conversion, but like Aaron says, “practise, practise, practise”.
If you want to become an All Black, or if you know someone who wants to become one (so just about all of us Kiwis, then) – The Beginner’s Guide To Rugby is a must-read.