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The debate over restricting playing time for All Blacks in Super Rugby has gone to another level after it was criticised by leading coaches Warren Gatland and Tony Brown.
New Zealand Rugby’s “load management” policy has created divisions at the top level.
And now Chiefs coach Gatland and Highlanders assistant Brown – both accomplished international coaches – have added their voice to those who believe it is too heavy-handed.
Kiwi Super Rugby teams must give their returning All Blacks restricted minutes through the first three rounds and find a way to rest them from two full matches during the competition.
Given the failure of the All Blacks at last year’s Rugby World Cup and the ongoing battle to generate interest in Super Rugby, the move has been widely panned by supporters.
Former All Blacks John Kirwan and Wyatt Crockett told Sky TV the enforced absence of top players “disrespects” the competition.
That thought was echoed by Brown, who agreed players should be handled on a “case by case” basis.
Japan assistant coach Brown said some fringe Test players had been dealt a bad hand by the policy in recent seasons.
“It’s always been the sort of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read plan, where they need to give those guys all a rest,” Brown told Radio Sport.
“So to keep it all even they make it mandatory to rest every All Black.
“I think in the past it’s actually cost a few players their All Black careers.”
Former Wales coach Gatland believed it was important to manage player welfare but said NZ Rugby should leave it to each franchise, rather than impose a blanket rule.
“Everyone is in a different boat. Some might need more than two games off,” Gatland said.
“I’d like to see us work together. The people in charge need to trust us and if we don’t do a good job then don’t let us manage them.”
New All Blacks coach Ian Foster told Stuff media that he could understand the criticism and believed the policy would be reviewed.
However, he said it was difficult to see a better way to get peak performance from players and reduce injuries off the back of a short off-season.
“What we do know is that there are no other full-contact sports in the world that start on January 31 and go to November 20, with very few breaks in between,” he said.
“We’ve learned through science players are most susceptible to major injury when they first come back after a break or when they’re fatigued in the latter part of a game.
“It seems common sense to have a graduated return.”