The Blues 'match-winner' that can't find a gig
SPOTLIGHT: Despite only starting to enter his peak years of professional rugby, Otere Black has called time on his career in New Zealand and is set to head to Japan following the NPC.
The 26-year-old has been in sparkling form for the Blues throughout the season, guiding the side to their first title in almost two decades.
Despite all that, however, Black has made the decision to leave NZ and take up a lucrative deal with the NTT Shining Arcs – partially because the Maori All Blacks pivot wasn’t confident he’d be able to notch up regular minutes for a Super Rugby side in next year’s competition.
“It was one of those things, it was really a timing thing for me,” Black told James Marshall on the former Hurricanes utility’s weekly podcast, What a Lad.
“Obviously at the Blues, they’ve got Beaudy [Barrett] coming back, they’ve got Harry [Plummer] there, they’ve got Stevie [Perofeta] there. I would have loved to stay but in terms of playing-wise, I think it would have been a little bit harder to get consistent minutes like I’ve had over the last two seasons so I sort of weighed that up and I was like, ‘Well, if I’m staying in New Zealand, I probably won’t be at the Blues, realistically’.
“I tested the waters in New Zealand but no one wanted me so I was like ‘Well, must be a sign for me to go’. So that was it.”
Marshall was surprised that the Kiwi teams weren’t lining up to sign Black, given his experience and proven talent.
“Everyone’s pretty much full,” Black explained.
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“I sort of asked around and asked my agent was there really any spots in New Zealand because I feel like maybe I’ve got a little bit more to offer before going overseas but everyone’s pretty much full up and I’ve got a young family now to look after. That sort of made the decision a little bit easier.
“Obviously, there was a club in Japan that was quite keen and there was another club as well over in France at the time and also there was another couple of clubs in Japan. Finally made my decision, probably at the start of the Trans-Tasman competition, so it was quite late, just because there were a few things going around.”
The Chiefs have Bryn Gatland and Kaleb Trask on their books for next year while Rivez Reihana is also expected to return to the franchise and Damian McKenzie is ostensibly considering a one-season stint offshore.
Black’s former side, the Hurricanes, have just Aidan Morgan and Ruben Love signed for next season at present – with Love an outside back first and foremost and Morgan uncapped at Super Rugby level.
Further south, Richie Mo’unga remains first-choice at the Crusaders and will likely be backed up by Fergus Burke – although Brett Cameron is off-contract, while the Highlanders will rely on the talents of Josh Ioane and Mitch Hunt.
From the outside looking in, any of those four teams would likely benefit from Black’s inclusion – especially given how close the 26-year-old must be to the All Blacks frame, which host Marshall touched upon.
“It’s interesting to feel like you might have a little bit more to offer,” he said. “I mean, you’re still really young, you’re playing some of the best footy you ever have played, you must have been in the frame for the recent All Blacks squad. I don’t know if you got any feedback from anyone there or anything?”
While Black acknowledged he’d reached career-best form, that was partially down to the fact that he’d taken any pressure off his shoulders throughout the Blues’ Trans-Tasman title-winning run, having already signed for the Shining Arcs at the beginning of the campaign.
“Probably the last six or so weeks I’ve probably been playing my best footy and I’m starting to feel a lot more confident in my own game and sort of running a team, I guess as a 10,” he said. “But by then, I’d already made my decision to leave so I think that was probably something that had a bit of weight off my shoulders.
“I didn’t have any pressure, I didn’t have anything to worry about in the future. I knew I was going to try and make the most of the next couple of weeks and try and win a title with the boys while I’m here. That probably played a little bit into it. I guess, in a way, it was probably a good thing – me going. Because it made me just relax a little bit more and play some footy.
“And in terms of the higher honours, I had no conversations with any of that stuff. Nothing.”
Unless players have already forced their way into the All Blacks set-up, they typically get little feedback from the coaches and selectors – something which players have expressed frustrations with in the past.
It’s something that Marshall also takes umbrage with at present.
“I find that’s one area New Zealand Rugby could do a lot better, is give people a little bit more comms into where they sit because I feel like you start losing guys like you,” the 2016 Super Rugby title-winner said.
“[It] probably could have just taken a conversation to say where you are in the pecking order to maybe give you a little more confidence to stay but I mean, that’s the way they’re doing things at the moment. We’re just going to end up losing more quality players than we probably should.”
Black is set to head to Japan once the NPC comes to a close later in the year.
The 26-year-old will miss the opening rounds of the competition after having minor surgery earlier this week.
By Sam Smith, RugbyPass