Ihaia West might have been shunned by New Zealand's Super Rugby franchises, but he was a wanted man across the Tasman.
The Hawke's Bay first five-eighth produced some eye-catching moments during the national provincial championships, but was overlooked when the five Kiwi franchise squads were unveiled this week.
Magpies backs coach Danny Lee is staggered the 21-year-old, who is currently in North America with the New Zealand Maori, had not been picked up for the 2014 season.
"It's pretty hard to believe he's not ranked in the top 15. You take three first-fives in each franchise and it's hard to imagine him not being in that group, that's the disappointing part of it," Lee said yesterday before revealing West had almost been lost to New Zealand rugby.
"He's a massive talent. I know he had options to go overseas to a Super team up until about three weeks ago with big money on offer.
"He turned that down, decided he was still young and wanted to play for Hawke's Bay again and wanted to play for the New Zealand Maori. There were a few factors that kept him here and I think that's brilliant.
"It's a hard thing for a young fella to turn down a full-time Super Rugby contract as a starting player on big money to stay here and follow his dream in the New Zealand system. I'm really proud of him for making that decision."
It's understood the interest in West came from across the Tasman, though it's unclear which team.
Lee believed inexperience was the main factor in West missing out on a spot in New Zealand's Super Rugby squads, but is miffed he could not find a place among the wider training groups.
"I see his inexperience at that level and his age as factors, but in saying that, some of the teams have picked up guys out of school with no experience in their wider groups, so that's not really an excuse.
"Maybe in that pivotal position they're looking for a bit more experience. But I would have thought as a third or fourth-stringer, that's what our system's job is, to encourage and grow these type of players.
"It was a little disappointing from my point of view that the Hurricanes, being our regional team, picked up [Marty] Banks from Tasman instead of Ihaia."
All of that said, it is difficult to mount a convincing case for West over the prolific Banks and, in truth, regional boundaries are becoming largely irrelevant.
A glance through each franchise explains West's omission on some level.
The Blues have three unconvincing incumbents in Chris Noakes, Baden Kerr and Benji Marshall, but they have invested in Auckland's Simon Hickey in their wider training group.
The Hurricanes, Chiefs and Crusaders each have at least three quality options at first five-eighth, so have not included any in their wider groups. At the Highlanders, coach Jamie Joseph has included three specialist first five-eighths in Lima Sopoaga, Hayden Parker and Willie Ripia as well as Trent Renata in the wider group.
West is arguably a better option than Ripia on form, but the latter has experience and goal-kicking on his side.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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