Calls for All Blacks to tap into Australian stocks

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:07 18/05/2014

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To prevent New Zealand's rich rugby nursery joining our national bird on the endangered list, the time may have come to select Australian-based Kiwi players for the All Blacks.

Safeguarding New Zealand rugby's greatest asset is becoming increasingly difficult.

Already, 30 players spread across Australia's five Super Rugby teams were either born here, or are eligible for the All Blacks.

That equates to 20 per cent of the best 150 officially listed Australian-based players. Ten of those have also featured, or been selected for, the Wallabies.

More will follow in the coming months, too.

Brumbies wing Henry Speight, who played three years for Waikato, is expected to don the green-and-gold jersey against the All Blacks in September. And Rebels fullback Jason Woodward - raised in Upper Hutt and having represented New Zealand under-20s - is eligible for the Wallabies next year.

Along with the constant threat from wealthy European and Japanese clubs, retaining and regaining premier Kiwi talent now based Australia is one of the major challenges facing the New Zealand Rugby Union.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is not alone in advocating for selecting players of New Zealand heritage from across the ditch.

"It's time to have the conversation around eligibility and being able to pick New Zealanders in Australia," Hansen told the Sunday Star Times. "It's all manageable. I'm not advocating we discuss picking players from anywhere else other than Australia, which is in the same time zone and competition."

Close proximity and relaxed immigration laws allow frequent movement between the trans-Tasman neighbours. But many men who shift to Australia at a young age, yet identify with New Zealand, aren't eligible for the All Blacks.

That stance prevented Tokoroa-raised playmaker Quade Cooper, who has played 50 tests for the Wallabies, Daniel Braid - the openside flanker was well in the frame while based in Brisbane during the 2009-10 seasons - and many others from being previously considered.

Australia is set to launch their National Rugby Championship in August and, combined with Super Rugby's pending expansion to 18 teams, there are mounting fears these moves will only enhance the growing exodus.

"There are so many Kiwis playing in the Australian competition," Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said. "All over the world they're targeting our players and locking them in for three years. That's only going to get worse.

"We need to look at it [selecting All Blacks from Australia] very carefully. This may give us the opportunity to get a few back from a national point of view. It gives New Zealand a chance to select those players who have gone over there and become residents.

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"The other side is you could end up with a helluva lot more Kiwis playing for overseas teams, which weakens the New Zealand Super Rugby teams but gives the All Blacks the chance to pick the best players."

While initially controversial, the NZRU has used sabbaticals as a means of subduing the player drain. This leave option went some way to countering the mind-boggling foreign salaries being offered, but it may not be enough.

The national body may need to be persuaded to relax its long-held staunch stance that only New Zealand-based players can be selected for the All Blacks.

In a statement, NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said the black jersey remained an important recruitment tool and any change would have to be very carefully weighed up, but there was currently no intention to change the policy.

Chiefs assistant coach Wayne Smith pointed out in recent times, though, the NZRU had displayed a willingness to be flexible.

"They've been totally correct in the stance they've taken," the former All Blacks coach said. "It's what kept the jersey special and our rugby strong, but they've also shown, with things like the AIG sponsorship on the jersey and taking the game to Chicago, the ability to think outside the square."

Smith said the game was changing with all sorts of paradigm shifts in part private ownership, expanding conferences and teams from all over the globe.

"It's right to consider these things in earnest, rather than throw them out the door. It's certainly worthwhile discussing.

"With all these things you've got to get up in the crow's nest and have a look at what the future impact will be, but it's got some merit. I can understand where Steve [Hansen] is coming from.

"There would need to be some sort of agreement in terms of the salary cap to make sure it wasn't the yellow-brick road for players to go over there and make more money.

KIWI WALLABIES

Quade Cooper (Reds, first five-eighth): Born Auckland, grew up in Tokoroa and moved Brisbane aged 13. Played 50 tests for Wallabies.

Peter Betham (Waratahs, wing): Born Wellington, played nine games for Tasman in 2012. Test debut against All Blacks Dunedin last year. Aged 25.

Chris Feauai Sautia (Reds, wing): Born Auckland, played two tests against South Africa and Scotland last year, scoring two tries. Dubbed the "next big thing"

Mike Harris (Reds, utility back): Born North Shore, played 33 games for North Harbour before moving Brisbane in 2011. Played 10 tests. Age 25.

Sekope Kepu (Waratahs, prop): Born Sydney. Family relocated to Auckland at young age. Came through Wesley College, played for NZ under-17s & 19s at No.8 - Mike Cron converted him to front-row. Aged 28.   

Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies, second-five): Born Auckland, moved to Melbourne age seven. Played for Waikato and Central Vikings. Test debut last year against British & Irish Lions. Played 13 tests. Aged 26.

Sitaleki Timani (Waratahs, lock): Born Tonga. Won scholarship to Auckland Grammar. Moved to Australia at 19. Played 18 tests. Aged 27.

Joe Tomane (Brumbies, wing): Born Palmerston North, moved to Australia aged three. Test debut against Scotland in 2012. Played nine tests. Aged 24

Albert Anae (Reds, hooker): Born Wellington, moved to Australia at young age. Selected in Wallabies squad last year. Aged 24.

Pek Cowan (Force, prop): Born Wellington. Played five tests. Aged 27.

WALLABIES IN WAITING

Henry Speight (Brumbies, wing): Born Fiji, played three years for Waikato. Eligible for Wallabies in September and expected to play in Rugby Championship. Aged 26.

Jason Woodward (Rebels, fullback): Born Wellington, went to St Patricks Silverstream and played for NZ under-20s. Eligible for Wallabies next year. Aged 23.  

Will Skelton (Waratahs, lock): Born Auckland, cousin of former All Blacks lock Brad Mika, moved to Sydney at 10. Aged 22.

Alofa Alofa (Waratahs, wing): Born Auckland, moved Sydney at four. Aged 23.  

Telusa Veainu (Rebels, wing): Born Kawakawa. Played NZ under-20s, Canterbury and Hawke's Bay. Signed for next two years with Rebels. Aged 23.

NEW ZEALANDERS PLAYING SUPER RUGBY IN AUSTRALIA

Tamati Ellison (Rebels / midfielder, 4 tests All Blacks)
Alby Mathewson (Force / halfback, 4 tests All Blacks)
Fotu Auelua (Brumbies / loose forward)
Jarrad Butler (Reds / flanker)
Leon Power (Brumbies / lock)
Jordan Smiler (Brumbies / flanker)
Jack Whetton (Brumbies / lock)
Tetera Faulkner (Force / prop)
Jayden Hayward (Force / utility back)
Chris Tuatara-Morrison (Force / midfielder)
Eddie Aholelei (Rebels / prop)
Paul Alo-Emile (Rebels / prop)
Scott Fuglistaller (Rebels / flanker)
Jamie-Jerry Taulagi (Reds / wing-fullback)
Toby Smith (Rebels / prop)

- Sunday Star Times

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