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'It's time we grew up': The jarring hypocrisy that proves All Blacks are getting key call all wrong

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Expert
18th March, 2024
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In a real professional sport, such as football, international managers are fixtures in the stands at club matches.

Their players are often far flung and, beyond watching them in the flesh, managers want to talk to them, see how life’s going and pass on messages.

Rugby in New Zealand has a way to go in that regard. But it was encouraging to see All Blacks coach Scott Robertson in Japan in recent days.

First-string All Blacks might be increasingly few and far between at our Super Rugby Pacific franchises, but there’s plenty playing in Japan’s League One.

Most are on sabbatical, other than peerless first five-eighth Richie Mo’unga.

The argument against picking the All Blacks from overseas is that it would dilute Super Rugby. Gee, just as well it’s so strong now, then.

Robertson was in Japan because that’s where players such as Ardie Savea, Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane and Beauden Barrett are. Mo’unga’s obviously there too but, for the time being, Robertson can’t pick him.

Richie Mo’unga of the All Blacks celebrates scoring a try during the 2020 Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup match

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

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My late father-in-law was fond of saying “you can’t be half-pregnant.’’

But New Zealand Rugby is permanently halfway up the duff, thanks to sending a succession of players on Japanese sabbaticals.

Never mind not picking blokes from overseas. These players skip Super Rugby and still maintain their All Blacks status. It’s certainly not on their Hurricanes or Highlanders form.

I’ve a particular bee in my bonnet about this because of Mo’unga, whose deal in Japan is of the three-year variety.

He’s a teammate of Frizell in League One, but only one of them is eligible to be an All Black in 2024.

Rugby doesn’t often make me laugh. But I never fail to chuckle anytime some brain surgeon tries to sell me on the merits of Stephen Perofeta.

Are we honestly giving him the keys to the All Blacks this year, in Mo’unga’s absence? Or Damian McKenzie, that regular tormentor of Super Rugby defences but occasional Test rugby liability?

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Brett Cameron? Rivez Reihana? Josh Ioane? It’s a shame we can’t pick Rhys Patchell.

I isolate No.10 because it’s an obvious area of weakness for New Zealand, otherwise we wouldn’t be drafting in people from Wales.

The bottom line is we don’t possess so much talent that we can ignore those players who opt for a change of lifestyle and currency. We need to be pragmatic rather than prideful.

Especially because we’ve been plucking players out of Japanese rugby for years now.

Rugby in this country is about the All Blacks.

It shouldn’t be but, in every act and deed, NZR has disregarded the rest of the pyramid. Every other team in this country sacrifices so the All Blacks can have more and yet we cling to this notion that you have to play in New Zealand to be eligible for the national team. Just like Savea and Barrett are.

Forgive me for not following that particular logic.

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Is South Africa picking Siya Kolisi if fit this year? Was the return of Will Skelton a boost for the Wallabies?
Is Mo’unga, as Roberston has opined, the form player in League One this season?

Siya Kolisi of South Africa celebrates at full-time after their team's victory during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Gold Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Franco Arland/Getty Images)

South Africa’s Siya Kolisi celebrates at full-time after winning Rugby’s world cup. (Photo by Franco Arland/Getty Images)

But not an All Black. No, that would be a slap in the face for those fine fellows playing Super Rugby Pacific in the 10 jersey.

Sure, you can go to Japan on a sabbatical and get picked. That’s endorsed by the nanny state, who pays players but doesn’t actually want professionalism.

The puppet strings are still attached to Frizell, so he can go to Japan just as long as he hurries home when we say so.

Who or what are we trying to save here? It’s not Super Rugby Pacific, otherwise we wouldn’t allow sabbaticals and Roberston wouldn’t need to make trips to Japan to see “his’’ players. It’s time we grew up.

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Far flung personnel hasn’t hampered the Springboks. Nor Argentina and France, for that matter, who contested the last FIFA World Cup final.

Are those players chained to domestic competitions or are they picked from wherever they reside?
Of course not. Football’s a professional sport.

We used to say picking prospective All Blacks from Europe, for instance, was too big a risk.

Their competitions weren’t as good as ours and the form unreliable. Sure, Luke McAlister might be tearing up the Premiership, but he couldn’t cut it at the Blues upon his return.

That’s not true now.

There’s better rugby out there than what’s served up back here and that’s partly proved by All Blacks’ performances since 2016.

Good on Robertson for going to Japan. I just look forward to his fact-finding missions also including France, England and Ireland in future and NZR finally adopting the notion of picking the best man for the job, wherever he may be.

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