29 Nov 2023

Change to All Blacks selection of overseas based players unlikely

3:49 pm on 29 November 2023
Sam Cane back from RWC

Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

New Zealand Rugby says it won't be changing its selection criteria around overseas based players any time soon.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane has suggested a review of the rules that prohibit the selection of nationals playing overseas.

Cane made the statement on his arrival in Japan where he will play for Suntory Sungoliath.

Cane is among several of the sport's stars, including World Player of the Year Ardie Savea and South African flyer Cheslin Kolbe, who will play in Japan's League One this year, enticed by high salaries and a relatively compact rugby calendar.

While Cane will not miss any internationals during his brief sabbatical, other All Blacks like Richie Mo'unga have signed multi-year deals in Japan that effectively rule them out of selection unless New Zealand's governing body changes its rules.

"A lot of the Springboks have shown the ability to play in League One and go back to international rugby fairly quickly and continue to play their best," Cane said at a news conference in Tokyo when asked if it was time for a rule change.

If New Zealand players returning from overseas stints could likewise show it has not been detrimental to their performance, then "maybe that conversation can be had", Cane said.

In a statement NZR said "the existing criteria remains a key foundation of New Zealand rugby's legacy and success.

"The current criteria enables senior, long-serving players - in both the men's and women's game - the opportunity to play overseas and then return to New Zealand as part of a long-term commitment."

Scott Robertson and Ian Foster are the two remaining candidates for the All Blacks head coach job.

Scott Robertson and Ian Foster. Photo: Photosport

Outgoing All Blacks coach Ian Foster has previously said changing the rules would be a "disaster" for rugby in New Zealand as it would draw talent away from its Super Rugby competition and stifle domestic player development.

But new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson said at the time of his appointment in April that he was open to change.

"One thing they've selected me [for] is a bit of forward-thinking and challenging the norm here," Robertson said at the time.

"We'll have conversations. You've got to be a step ahead."

But the NZR statement has looked to put the kaibosh on any such possibility.

"Any significant change to the criteria is not foreseeable in the short term and would require significant consultation with all our stakeholders.

"NZR continues to look at ways to maintain the competitiveness of competitions and national teams globally."

Cane, who was sent off in last month's Rugby World Cup final loss to South Africa, went on to say he had held talks with new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson but would not be drawn on whether he expected to keep the captaincy.

"I know the All Blacks coaches will be keeping an eye on some of us boys over here, so my sole focus will just be to play well and try to improve," he said.

While Japan was once seen as a destination for overseas players in the twilight of their careers to cash in at clubs without the strict salary caps seen in other leagues, luring top talent in their prime is giving it more cachet.

"It's grown immensely. It's much more competitive," said Kolbe, who signed for Suntory alongside Cane. "Everybody is up to standard now. That's the exciting thing."

Suntory lost in the semi-finals of last year's competition to eventual winners Kubota Spears, who boast New Zealand hooker Dane Coles, Australian playmaker Bernard Foley and Welsh fullback Liam Williams among their ranks this season.