• All Blacks Refuse to Bend Selection Rules to Accommodate Defectors

    The question making the rounds, now, and at other times, is whether New Zealand rugby selectors should relax the criteria for inclusion on the All Blacks squad to accommodate Kiwi players who have gone off in search of the riches Europe offers.

    It has been over 20 years since the game turned professional, yet New Zealand Rugby has stuck to its guns with regard to requiring that All Blacks players adhere to the domestically based-only requirement.

    That rule seems rigid and debate arises every time an All Black leaves New Zealand for the rich financial rewards they can capture in England and France.

    Top 14 club Toulon is a veritable who’s who of New Zealand players.

    Lima Sopoaga, just 26 years of age, is the latest All Black to leave New Zealand in the prime of his career, joining fellow countrymen Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Charlie Faumuina in Toulouse for some big paydays and some of the French lifestyle in the south of France.

    It is hard to fault them, for reasons of jingoistic nationalism, or others, as a rugby career is brief under the best of circumstances and all players have to acknowledge that every time they step on the ground, they are one unfortunate second away from retired status.

    Some of the All Blacks biggest stars have chosen to stay, of course, but marquee names, such as Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Ben Smith, Kieran Read and Rieko Ioane, command the sort of money in New Zealand that makes it harder to abandon hearth and home, not to mention the prestige of playing for the world’s best international rugby side.

    So far, the exodus has not had serious impact on All Black fortunes. Many left following the 2015 World Cup, yet the All Blacks produced an undefeated record in 2016.

    The most recent players to leave claimed many caps to their names, but so long as New Zealand keeps producing top flight rugby players, it can withstand a few defections without resorting to the drastic measures of some of the other SANZAAR nations, which have had no choice but to relax selection rules in order to stay in the international game.