Coach Ian Foster has left no doubt where he stands on the contentious issue of allowing overseas-based players to appear for the All Blacks.
Earlier this week, All Blacks coach elect Scott Robertson put the subject back under the spotlight, as he considered the ever-increasing exodus of players to Japan and Europe after the upcoming World Cup.
The current policy deems only those contracted to a New Zealand-based side – at either Super Rugby or National Provincial Championship level – are eligible for test selection.
Robertson conceded the time may be right to overhaul the approach, adding part of his edict for appointment by NZR was based on his “forward-thinking and challenging the norm”.
“If you step behind and then change rules, that’s when you get caught,” said Robertson.
“[NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson] will definitely be getting my opinion and my thoughts.
“I’ll present to the board, where I think the game is heading, potentially. But a lot of that will happen after I get in the role.”
Speaking to NZME on Saturday, Foster said changing the policy to allow players off-shore to wear the black jersey would be a “disaster” for the game in New Zealand.
“From an All Blacks perspective – if I just looked at it purely selfishly – I guess it always makes some academic sense,” said Foster.
“But I think from New Zealand, rugby as a whole I think would be a disaster.”
Although he admits the competition is flawed, Foster believes it’s imperative that Super Rugby remains the primary developmental pathway to the next level.
“We’ve got a Super Rugby competition that has filled our national team for many, many years,” he added.
“I don’t think the Super Rugby competition’s perfect at the moment, it needs a bit of work, but that is the development path. It’s where we actually develop our players. We’re able to work with the franchises in that space.
“I think we need to make sure we’re selling that product to the public and we’re growing our young players with our older players around them.”
So far, All Blacks Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga are all Japan-bound after the World Cup in France. Ardie Savea will also be ineligible for the All Blacks in 2024 after a one-year sabbatical to also play in Japan, as part of his new NZ Rugby contract.
But Foster fears opening up the rugby borders would result in an even bigger overseas exodus, as players chase lucrative deals abroad and by doing so, undermine the quality of competition within Super Rugby.
“I think the minute we open up the door… we know the worldwide demand for our players is huge,” he noted.
“I think we’ll lose a lot of our top players. I think that’ll dilute our domestic competition too much.
“There’s pros and cons either way, but I think we have to look at the game as a whole, as a bigger picture, and I think they need to stay behind and play here.”
As you’d expect, Foster said he and his coaching staff were in the thick of their World Cup preparations and had been impressed – for the most part – with the form of their leading players through Super Rugby so far.
While he admits there still plenty of time for players to press their claims for selection, the bulk of their squad is pencilled in for the plane to France, and Foster suggests it’s unlikely we’ll see any genuine bolters.
“With the size of the squads we’ve had over the last couple of years with travel, COVID etc… the odds of getting someone who hasn’t played for us are probably aren’t that great, but you never know.”
One thing Foster revealed he is sure of is who will lead his team during the World Cup, confirming he had decided on who will take up the captaincy.
Foster’s incumbent captain Sam Cane told Newshub last week that he’d had no discussions with the All Blacks coach about whether he’d retain the role, sparking speculation on whether another player would be awarded the honour.
Speaking to NZME, Foster said they hadn’t made the announcement yet to allow injured players to get back on the field and some consistent minutes under their belt, downplaying any perceived lack of communications.
Cane missed last week’s Chiefs win over the Drua with neck stiffness and has been contending with a series of injuries in recent years.
“We don’t get a lot of contact with our players formally during Super Rugby, so we’re just working through a timeline,” said Foster.
“We’ve had a couple of short sessions with our leaders, and we’re not far away from revealing that. Part of it is just to be able to allow people just to get back in play.
“We’ve had a number of players that have been disrupted with injury over the last couple of years.
“We have just been keen for people to settle in and just get some runs under the ball about, get their confidence up, and then we’ll make that announcement shortly.”