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Cane sparks All Blacks eligibility debate

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Sam Cane has suggested that the All Blacks eligibility rules should be reviewed following his move to Sungoliath in Japan.

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Cane transferred to Sungoliath on a sabbatical, and World Rugby Player of the Year Ardie Savea has also moved to the Land of the Rising Sun on a short-term deal.

However 29-year-old playmaker Richie Mo’unga has seemingly been lost to New Zealand Rugby for the foreseeable future after signing a lucrative multi-year deal in Japan.

Shannon Frizell, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Aaron Smith and Brodie Retallick are another four All Blacks who are no longer eligible to compete at the highest level for New Zealand.

The latest exodus has left New Zealand with a big concern, with Cane also reconsideration his stance on the topic.

However former All Blacks skipper Kieran Read has urged New Zealand Rugby (NZR) not to change anything.

“From my point of view, I don’t think NZR, the All Blacks or anyone could survive if we end up going down that route, just yet,” he told AM.

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“We need our guys playing in New Zealand. We need a strong competition that’s getting fans along to games, getting them engaged, keeping them engaged here in New Zealand.

“We can’t be doing that if we’re off playing around the world.”

South Africa gained tremendous success since relinquishing their eligibility rule.

However,  Read warned, that just because it works for South Africa doesn’t mean that it’ll work for New Zealand.

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“The seasons don’t quite align,” Read added. “We’ve seen in South Africa, although it can work for them in some ways, they end up playing literally all year round because there’s no break between the international and club season.

“I don’t see it happening right now, I don’t think it needs to.

“Certainly, the opportunities to have sabbaticals and stuff is going to keep the guys in New Zealand a bit longer, I hope.”

The envy of the world

Cane’s agent Simon Porter shared Read’s sentiments and defended NZR’s stance on picking overseas players.

Porter, who manages Cane and other high-profile names, said that New Zealand is the “envy of most the rugby world” when it comes to contracts.

The formation of the eligibility rules at the dawn of professionalism was more by accident than by design, but the agent believed it was one of the core competitive advantages that drive success with the All Blacks today.

“When rugby went professional in 1996, we adopted the central contracting model,” Porter explained on Newstalk ZB’s Talksport. 

“By need more than anything, we didn’t have private money that was potentially on offer from England and France, to come in and make club-land the primary contract holder.

“We went centrally contracted and that meant that NZR were the ones that put up all the money and had all the rights etc. and contracted all the players.

“The one thing in this debate that I think you cannot underestimate or overlook is that, even though we haven’t had success at the last two World Cups in the men’s game, it is still our competitive advantage.”

Porter pointed to Australia’s desire to copy the centralised model as evidence of this competitive advantage that New Zealand has.

As Rugby Australia grapples with in-fighting at the top after ousting chairman Hamish McLennan, they have expressed a desire to centralise their system to align all the bodies in the game.

A strong system is required to fight the growing demands of professionalism and offshore leagues that want to attract the best players.

“We are the envy of a lot of the rugby world in how we contract,” he said.

“We see Australia with their moves. They are trying to centralise, bring everything under the same tent.

“That is basically just trying to replicate what we have. You have to remember it is a competitive advantage and then matching that you’ve got the advancing of professionalism.

“Advancing of players wanting to play around the world in different competitions, and you’ve got those competitions who want the best players.

“At the end of the day everything in sport is a competition for eyeballs.”

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