After five years together, Aaron Cruden and Grace King (both 23) finally have their own home. Just before Aaron left for the All Blacks’ end-of-year European tour, the pair moved into a spick-and-span house in a relatively new and upmarket suburb of Hamilton, where Aaron plays for the Chiefs.
It’s so spick-and-span, you could eat off the floor. In fact, you would have to eat off the floor, as they don’t own a table. Or chairs. “We’re starting from scratch,” laughs Aaron.
Although they bought the house some time ago, they only got to move in late last month. Currently, their furniture consists of a bed, two beanbags, two camping chairs and an iPod dock. They haven’t been for a swim in the pool, the spa pool is empty and there hasn’t even been time for a bounce on the trampoline the previous owners left behind.
“We got in for a couple of days the last time I had a week off,” says Aaron. “We put the bed up and got a fridge and microwave and bits and pieces.”
That was all there was time for and it’s actually taken some doing to get the busy pair, who got together the year after they left school, to this point. “Grace has been in Palmerston North, where we’re from, finishing off a bit of study, and I’ve been all over the show with rugby, so we haven’t had a chance to get here,” says the affable All Blacks and Chiefs first five.
“All over the show” means playing rugby in Argentina, South Africa, Australia and all around New Zealand. Grace got to the home games but was unable to accompany Aaron further afield because her “bit of study” is a year-long teaching course to complement her degree in sport and exercise. “I had practicals, so it was too far to go,” explains Grace.
When the pair spoke to the Weekly, Grace was three weeks from finishing her studies. After Aaron’s successful European All Black tour is over, he hopes to have eight weeks off and settle in to his new home. The house itself took a long time to find.
“We were looking the whole Super Rugby season,” says Aaron. “This is permanent. We just want to put down roots somewhere and get on with it.”
“We looked and looked and looked,” says Grace. “We looked in Wellington a couple of years ago and then things came to an end there [when Aaron decided to leave the Hurricanes and join the Chiefs], so it’s lucky we didn’t buy. Then we came up here and started looking from the get-go.”
The day they moved in was also the one-year anniversary of the Rugby World Cup final, in which Aaron played most of the first half before going off with a knee injury. “It does seem a long time ago,” says Aaron of the stress of the campaign. “Straight after it, we went on holiday to America for a month. That was awesome – going from a high and then totally relaxing.”
Aaron says defending the title, in England in 2015, which he hopes he will have the chance to do, will be different because the All Blacks won’t be playing before a home crowd. Aaron might not have had the chance to play rugby at all if the testicular cancer he was diagnosed with in 2008 hadn’t been treated so swiftly and effectively.
“I still have regular check-ups,” says Aaron, “And it’s been put back to every six months, or whenever I can get down to my specialist in Palmy.”
Aaron says it’s a good feeling every time a new post-treatment milestone is reached. And his mother obviously agrees. “Mum comes to every appointment just to make sure and put her mind at rest.”
One obvious reminder of his illness is the Medic-Alert bracelet he wears. “One of the drugs they put me on affected my lungs,” explains Aaron, “My bracelet says, ‘Previous bleomycin therapy. Use lowest possible oxygen concentration.’
“If I was ever picked up by an ambulance they’d see that written on the back and know what to do.” “We forget sometimes,” says Grace. “I bought Aaron a skydive for his birthday. It was the morning before and I said, ‘Maybe we need to check before you do it.’ And he couldn’t go up to the height we’d bought.”
“I was originally booked in for a 15,000 feet dive,” adds Aaron, “but as soon as you get over 13,000 feet they have to chuck an oxygen mask on you. It was lucky I asked. I ended up doing a 12,000 feet one.”
You would expect an All Black and a sports teacher to lead an active lifestyle, and Aaron and Grace don’t spend a lot of time watching TV. “We went running this morning,” says Grace, when asked what they enjoy doing together. “I can only just keep up with him.”
Aaron adds, “We also do a bit of swimming. We hit a tennis ball around together. In Wellington, we tried that Bikram yoga [yoga done at very high temperatures], which was really cool but we got a little bit slack after we went a few times. It’s amazing how demanding it is holding those poses.”
Despite their youth, the pair have thought seriously about the years ahead. Aaron wants to do some study next year and has a deadline of the end of this year to decide just what that will be. “I’d like to pick up a few papers during rugby season.”
Any more would be unlikely because “talking to a few guys who’ve been doing it, they say it can be hard to do full time study during the season”.
Aaron says he enjoys studying nowadays but “not when I was at school as much as I should have. I don’t mind it as long as I put my head down and work instead of procrastinating. I did enjoy sport at school. Looking back, I wish I’d had more of a balance.”
Outside rugby and teaching, the pair have plenty of other plans. They would like to run their own business. “We’ve always talked about owning our own café or little restaurant,” says Aaron. “We don’t know how far away or how close that is,” says Grace. “It’s just an idea.”
But for now, the unassuming pair couldn’t be happier. “We’ve got a new house, which is going to keep us busy, and the rugby’s going pretty well,” says Aaron, who adds that although marriage and kids “may be” in their future one day, it’s not something they are focusing on just yet. “I reckon we’re pretty good as we are!”