New Zealand's rugby midfield cupboard is looking decidedly bare as Rene Ranger, the Auckland Blues and thrice-capped All Black wing-cum-centre, is looking to head offshore. After a near on man of the match performance versus the Crusaders on Friday night, the news of his possible departure has well and truly been amplified.
This follows in the footsteps of 2012 Super XV championship winning centre Richard Kahui announcing his intentions to leave New Zealand and the defections of former All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams to the NRL and Isia Toeava to Japan.
Suddenly the national coaches are scratching their heads...
After a third weekend of Six Nations rugby, where the four home unions, France and Italy, happily selected whomever they liked from their respective leagues, New Zealand is again looking down the barrel of a non-selection nightmare as some of the best players in their respective positions are/will be unavailable for the All Blacks due to playing abroad.
My first question is about money: Why is it that the NZRU, who take a large fee from away games and have just signed a huge contract with insurance giant AIG, are not competing with foreign clubs who are soliciting our players at the peak of their powers?
After an expansive first weekend of Six Nations rugby, I look at New Zealand's nomadic influence on the European game and select a starting fifteen that would form a formidable unit to compete in the southern hemisphere's premier provincial competition, the Super XV.
Starting with the cornerstones on either side of the pack: Ulster's John Afoa at loosehead prop and Toulon's Carl Hayman in the number three jersey. At just twenty nine, Afoa is at the start of his prime in propping terms, yet has amassed 101 caps for the Auckland Blues and helped win RWC 2011 before joining the Northern Irish outfit.
Hayman, however, vacated New Zealand after the 2007 loss to the French in Cardiff, initially finding solace in chilly Newcastle before joining rugby's 'Galacticos' at RC Toulonais on the Southern coast of France. Now thirty three, Hayman is yet to win either the Heineken Cup or the French Top 14 Title with Toulon - there are none more nomadic than he.
Holding up the front row at Hooker would be man mountain Aled De Malmanche. The Palmerston North born twenty eight year old won five caps for New Zealand after impressing for Waikato and the Chiefs between 2005-2011. Known for his strength and ball carrying ability, De Malmanche currently plies his trade with French giants, Stade Francais.
Finishing off the tight five: Michael Patterson of the Cardiff Blues and Zebre's Josh Sole in the second row. Where Patterson represented Canterbury, the Crusaders and the Highlanders before switching to the Welsh Capital in 2010, Hamiltonian Sole has lived in Italy since 2004 and has 47 caps for his adopted homeland.
New Zealand’s undoubted and, in some ways, unrivalled rugby system produces some of the most intelligent and lethal talent that have ever graced the game. With the introduction of professionalism in the late 20th century, products from this system have fanned out around the world in the quest for fame and fortune.
In France, the premier division, the Top 14, has evolved into the wealthiest club competition on the planet. With massive financial investment and fanatical crowds it has attracted many top class players from all corners of the globe to create a championship teeming with incredible rugby ability.
With so much economic strength, the Top 14 squads are overrun with foreign internationals; the French rugby football union (FFR) has called for quota systems to prevent a decline in exposure to the top flight of French qualified players. For now however, the power stays on the continent...
After seven seasons with Welsh outfit the Cardiff Blues, four times capped All Black Ben Blair joins SU Agen for the forthcoming season. The 33 year old fullback moves to a club which finished tenth last season and boasts former Hurricanes prop John Schwalger in its ranks.
South west from Agen is Aviron Bayonnais, which, being only one place above the drop zone last season, was the destination of All Blacks Neemia Tialata and Josevata Rokocoko after the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Not five miles down the D810 at the Stade Aguilera are Basque rivals and 2012 Challenge cup winners Biarritz Olympique. Boasting a raft of French internationals, and lead by the beautifully named no.8 Imanol Harinordoquy, Biarritz finished disappointingly in mid-table last season. With Waipukurau born fly-half Matt Berquist arriving from European Champions Leinster this season, Biarritz will look to emulate the French championship winning teams of 2005 and 2006.
With the richest club rugby competition commencing in less than a fortnight, we have a look at the most notable transfers to the French premier division from New Zealand shores.
Lauchie Munro – Blues to Bordeaux- Begles
The multi-talented Aucklander moves to the south-west of France after six years of first class rugby for Auckland and Northland. The 25 year old, one of the shining lights of a stuttering Blues campaign this season, has been convinced to travel north to ply his trade with former French hooker and now Bordeaux coach, Raphael Ibanez. Bordeaux have acquired an accomplished player who is comfortable at any position outside of scrum-half and, though playing mostly at wing this season, has developed into a quality Super Rugby player.
Daniel Kirkpatrick – Hurricanes to Castres Olympic
With the well publicized move of Sonny Bill Williams to Japan later this year, for me it is another All Black back leaving our shores that should serve as a warning to the New Zealand rugby powers that be. The news of utility man Isaia Toeava taking up a two year contract with the Canon Eagles in Japan should come as a hammer blow to the NZRU, and a wakeup call to its administrators.
It seems that yet another elite player is waltzing off into the wild blue yonder, to ply their trade in a more fruitful foreign league in the name of money. But who can blame them? With a ‘life expectancy’ of about ten years at the top level of rugby union, each and every player should maximise their earning potential, in what is sometimes a harsh, undefined and uncertain career.
At 26 years of age, Toeava is in what you would call ‘the prime’ of his sporting life and the next four years will see whichever club he represents get the best out of him as a rugby player.
The issues with this are that, one, if he excels at the club he is not eligible to play for the All Blacks because he is not based in New Zealand and, two, what, if anything, did the Auckland provincial, Blues franchise or New Zealand rugby unions get paid for letting Toeava go?
In the English Premier League, it has recently been announced that Arsenal club captain, Robin Van Persie, will not renew his contract, with only 12 months to run until it expires.
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