OPINION: Has the New Zealand Rugby Union opened a can of worms with its Super 15 selection policy, and are the Crusaders getting greedy?
Most franchises would count themselves lucky to have Sonny Bill Williams' signature. But now the Crusaders have poached exciting young All Blacks back Israel Dagg and are also flirting with the Highlanders' All Black backrower Adam Thomson.
A Super rugby player has effectively become a stateless person. Dagg hails from Hawke's Bay and continues to play national provincial championship rugby for the Magpies. Yet he got his Super rugby break with the Highlanders and is now headed to the Crusaders to join Magpies mate Zac Guildford, last year's capture from Hurricanes country.
Thomson grew up in Ashburton and played for Christchurch Boys' High School's first XV. But he has, to all intents and purposes, been developed in Dunedin where he's been for a decade.
He made the All Blacks from Otago and he owes new Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph at least one season to see if the former All Black hardman can turn the ailing franchise around.
Thomson is a fantastic flanker but the Crusaders hardly need him. Granted, with Kieran Read now focusing on No8, they don't have a specialist No6, as such. But they already have an all-All Blacks backrow in Read, Richie McCaw and George Whitelock with the latter two adept at playing the left-right flankers system. Moreover, the Crusaders have cover in Jonathan Poff, Matt Todd, Nasi Manu and Brendan O'Connor.
Dagg does appeal as a likely long-term replacement for the Crusaders' greatest fullback, Leon MacDonald. But, again, shouldn't he have stayed with the Highlanders as a key plank in their rebuilding phase?
Having appointed Joseph, a legendary figure in the great Otago teams of the early 1990s, shouldn't the NZRU do him a favour and freeze all transfers of contracted players from the Highlanders?
It does, however, make perfect sense for Colin Slade to head south to the Highlanders if he wants a shot at making the World Cup squad. He can hardly stake a claim to be Dan Carter's test backup at first five-eighth if he remains his understudy at the Crusaders.
Isaac Ross must also be destined to head elsewhere given the locking logjam at the Crusaders and would it not be better for Wyatt Crockett to make the move too to boost his chances of making the World Cup cut?
The Crusaders can't complain about players being poached by other franchises. They have had a charmed life at Super rugby draft time for years. Robbie Deans somehow managed to keep two of the best fullbacks in the country in Leon MacDonald and Ben Blair by claiming Blair was also a backup wing.
We all know rugby is a 22-man game these days, but that shouldn't mean the Crusaders get to keep 22 All Blacks.
The NZRU now allows players to effectively sign for a particular provincial union but pledge their Super 15 allegiance to a franchise outside their home base. Is it little wonder, then, that there appears to be more fan fervour for Ranfurly Shield and NPC matches than Super rugby games.
Strange decisions seem to abound in the Super rugby arena. It still boggles the mind that Mark Hammett was allowed to remain as Crusaders' assistant coach after accepting the Hurricanes' 2011 head coaching job early in the 2010 season. It wouldn't have happened in most professional codes.
Which begs one last question.
If player movement between franchises continues to escalate, are the chief clipboard carriers still coaches or man-managers? How much coaching would a Crusaders' forward coach have to do with a backrow boasting McCaw, Read and Thomson? Not as much as Jamie Joseph down south with a nap hand of raw recruits.
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