15 May 2014

Fears overseas clubs targeting future All Blacks

1:22 pm on 15 May 2014

It seems the lure of an All Black jersey is not quite what it was, and that's putting added pressure on New Zealand Rugby's player production line.

The raiding of New Zealand's playing stocks is taking on a new dimension, with fears overseas clubs are now targeting potential future All Blacks.

Earlier this week the 23-year-old Crusaders first five Tyler Bleyendaal announced he's signed a three year deal with Irish club Munster.

The national union says they realise they have to produce top flight players for the domestic market but know there's an ever-increasing export market for both new and used players.

In recent years the New Zealand rugby union has resigned itself to losing about 20 players a year to rich European or Japanese clubs - generally players coming to end of their professional careers or second tier players that aren't in All Black contention.

But a new attack on the depth of New Zealand rugby is emerging.

Bleyendaal may not have secured a regular starting place in the Crusaders but it hasn't put off Irish rugby club Munster.

Both Bleyendaal and 24-year-old Chiefs centre Bundee Aki, who announced last month he was off to Irish club Connacht, have for now turned their backs on future All Black careers.

The NZRU's general manager of professional rugby Neil Sorenson concedes the departures raise question about the future direction of rugby here.

Sorenson says they wouldn't want a host of people who get to 22 and decide they're not going to be an All Black so they go and play for France, Wales or Ireland - but there's not a lot they can do about it.

He says they just have to keep ensuring they have a whole bunch of talent coming through and accept that the professional game will evolve, and if a trend does emerge they have to make sure they're doing their core role well, which is recruiting retaining and developing young men.

Not being a regular starter for the Crusaders has been the catalyst for the change and with Dan Carter set to return Bleyendaal knew his options were limited.

He says he's not oblivious to the amount of talent here and with Dan Carter coming back he just thinks it's time to go.

And Blyendaal admits while being an All Black has been a goal of his for a long time, this could be the route to getting there - but he could play for Ireland as well.

In the past All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has been critical of the likes of Aki and Bleyendaal, accusing those who head overseas of taking the easier option and lacking mental fortitude.

At the recent naming of the All Blacks wider training squad Hansen was a little more restrained, saying that as a player once you've made that decision to go overseas and maybe play for another country, you certainly can't come back and play for the All Blacks.

Decisions like Bleyendaal's and Aki's perhaps indicate players are taking notice of the New Zealnad education programmes, understanding a professional playing career is a short term proposition and younger players are opting to take up lucrative overseas even if that means forgoing their All Black dream.

Sorenson concedes the problem is only likely to get worse. Professional rugby is relatively new in New Zealand at only about 19-20 years and this is perhaps an evolution of our game.

He says who knows what will happen - in 20 years time the Irish team might be half made up of kids from Australia, New Zealand and Samoa.