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SPOTLIGHT: New All Blacks coach Scott Robertson said Tuesday he was pressing New Zealand Rugby to change its sacrosanct rule banning overseas-based players from Test selection, saying he wanted to pick from the best available.

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The governing body has refused to budge on the issue, believing selecting players enticed overseas on big-money contracts would weaken the domestic game at the Super Rugby and provincial level.

As recently as last month, New Zealand Rugby chief executive (CEO) Mark Robinson said they were “really happy” with demands that All Blacks selection be restricted to players based in New Zealand.

However, Robertson said he had asked the board to “keep an open mind” at his first press conference since taking over as All Blacks coach.

The policy change will be similar to the current Springboks’ model. The South Africa Rugby officially scrapped their eligibility rule for overseas players in 2019 – just a year after Rassie Erasmus was named the head coach of the Springboks.

The change of policy saw Erasmus having the luxury of picking top players who were plying their trade in places such as England, France, Ireland and Japan.

Since then the Boks have gone on to win consecutive World Cups.

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“I’ve presented to the board, the CEOs of the Super Rugby [teams], the [provincial unions], Heartland [unions] about just keeping an open mind with where we are in that space,” Robertson said on Tuesday.

“That’s what I’ve asked for – not to have someone come and play for us, but to keep an open mind about where the game is currently.

“It’s moving quite quickly, as we know. There are a lot of on and off-field decisions to be a step ahead of.”

*Article continues below…

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Losing the best players

Some of the high-profile All Blacks players who are currently overseas are Beauden Barrett, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Richie Mo’unga, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Shannon Frizell.

Cane, Savea and Beauden Barrett are on short-term contracts overseas and will return to New Zealand before the 2024 Test season.

However, Mo’unga, Fainga’anuku and Frizell are on longer deals with overseas clubs and are currently ineligible.

Mo’unga, a standout performer for the All Blacks at the World Cup last year, signed a three-year contract with Japanese club Toshiba.

The 29-year-old’s deal means he will not don an All Blacks jersey this year, should the policy stay in place.

It’s a big concern for the coach, who did not reveal whether or not the selection policy would realistically change but he maintained that selecting the best possible team is important.

“I have got to get in front of a few people, have a few conversations, catch a few eyes, have some chats, I think it’s important we do that, respect for all options,” he said.

“I just want to keep an open mind, so I can select the best players available for the All Blacks.”

Opinion on the issue is divided among players and coaches.

Ian Foster, who coached the All Blacks to last year’s World Cup Final, where they were beaten 12-11 by South Africa, has said Robertson’s idea made “some academic sense” but would be a “disaster” for the game in New Zealand.

Cane, who captained the All Blacks in recent years, has called for the eligibility rule to be reviewed, while his predecessor Kieran Read has doubted that the All Blacks “could survive if we end up going down that route”.

*Additional Source: AFP

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