It's au revoir Rene Ranger after 2013 NPC

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2013
Rene Ranger
GRAHAME COX/ Fairfax NZ
ALL BLACK GONE: Despite yesterday's denials it appears Rene Ranger's move to France is a done-deal.

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When Rene Ranger decided in December that his future lay in the south of France he didn't realise his best chance of an All Blacks recall was imminent.

Had Ranger known Richard Kahui would announce his shock departure to Japan and Tamati Ellison would be ruled out for the season, he may have delayed the move offshore.

But, unfortunately for the Blues and New Zealand rugby, there was no such crystal ball.

While Ranger attempted to quell speculation he had signed with French club Montpellier yesterday, aware his defection would hurt his chances of a national call-up, it is understood he is set to take up a lucrative three-year deal - believed to be worth more than 30,000 Euros ($48,000) a month - after playing for Northland in this year's NPC.

"There's no guarantees of making the All Blacks," Ranger said.

"Everyone dreams of playing for the All Blacks. I've done that before and would like to put the jersey back on again. But if that offer comes to go overseas and it's a good offer, it could be on the cards.

"It comes down to a mixture of things. We are getting older.

"There's rumours but nothing is official yet. I haven't signed anything yet. A lot of clubs are on the ropes overseas so my options are open. At the moment I'm here with the Blues, signed with the NZRU for a year, and still playing for Northland."

A shift abroad had been in the pipeline for some time. Ranger turns 27 in September and with a baby girl due in six weeks, the financial security of close to $600,000 per-year for a humble Wellsford lad who left school at 15 was too good to turn down. The timing of the decision means his daughter will be able to spend her first six months at home.

Money wasn't the only consideration, however.

Ranger is understood to have rejected better offers in Japan, as the chance of playing in the expansive, physical Top 14 competition was a lure.

Many will question the timing of his decision to say au revior. After dropping four kilograms during pre-season, Ranger is in the best shape and, with off-field dramas behind him, head space of his career. There is a growing sense he is close to delivering on his explosive talents.

With spots in the All Blacks midfield at stake, there couldn't be a worse time to leave.

Conrad Smith's sabbatical at the end of this year further exposes a lack of depth in this area.

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And there may be more frustration as the Blues appear in the dark about Ranger's long-term plans.

It is understood he had been in contact with All Blacks backs coach Ian Foster, before the Kahui developments.

Steve Hansen was also understood to be a keen observer of his progress this season.

At this early stage, Highlanders utility Ben Smith and Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean are the only other standout contenders for his squad to play France in June.

Hansen was impressed with Ranger's form for Northland at centre last year.

The All Blacks coach felt that with the backing of Blues coach John Kirwan and with a full campaign to learn the nuances of the role, improve his decision-making and distribution skills, Ranger's destructive game could mature.

- Stuff

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