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Key All Blacks still not locked in beyond 2022

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

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Six members of the All Blacks squad named to take on Ireland in a three-match series next month are yet to sign contracts that will keep them eligible to represent New Zealand at next year’s Rugby World Cup.

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Flanker Dalton Papalii, first five Stephen Perofeta, midfielder Rieko Ioane and outside backs Sevu Reece, Will Jordan and Jordie Barrett are all in the final years of their NZR contracts. George Bridge, who has been a mainstay in the squad since 2019 but missed out on the latest team, is in the same boat, while the situations regarding Akira Ioane, Finlay Christie and the injured Ethan Blackadder are not publically known.

Perofeta – the only new cap amongst the above group – said earlier this year that whether he remains in New Zealand beyond 2022 would largely come down to whether he was able to push on following his strong start to the year.

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How the Super Rugby Pacific final has impacted the All Blacks.
Video Spacer
How the Super Rugby Pacific final has impacted the All Blacks.

“My ambition is to stay,” he told the NZ Herald. “If my form dies off towards the end of the season or I’m not as consistent then overseas is a viable option but I’m more leaning towards staying in New Zealand as long as possible.

“The All Blacks is in the back of my mind – that’s the ultimate goal in what I’m wanting to achieve while I am in New Zealand. If that happens, it will be an extra motivation.”

It would therefore come as a massive surprise, following his call-up to the national squad, if Perofeta didn’t soon put ink to paper – and his All Blacks selection will have undoubtedly added a few extra dollars to his asking price.

The other five members of the current squad will also all be expected to remain in NZ, given the lure of next year’s World Cup.

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Ioane, Jordan and Barrett are all indispensable members of the All Blacks who are all but guaranteed to be starting week-in and week-out over the coming two seasons and it would be a bold call for any of the trio to head offshore. It would also be a massive black mark for NZR if they weren’t able to retain the talents of three young superstars, with 25-year-old Barrett the oldest of the lot.

Perhaps the greatest risk, however, is for their Super Rugby sides.

Ioane and Jordan are well-entrenched with the high-achieving Blues and Crusaders but while Barrett grew up supporting the Hurricanes, he could be tempted to head elsewhere after the Wellingtonians looked somewhat off the pace throughout this year’s Super Rugby Pacific competition. More importantly, Barrett’s older brothers are based in Christchurch and Auckland for the bulk of the Super season, and Barrett may look to link up with either Scott or Beauden in the near future.

Reece and Papalii, meanwhile, were two of the All Blacks’ best throughout 2021 but face hefty competition to earn permanent starting spots in the side. Papalii, at 24, could potentially have three World Cups in him – or at least two and a British and Irish Lions tour – and will almost certainly remain in New Zealand for the medium-term future. Reece, still just 25, is also unlikely to be heading offshore but could command a significant salary in Japan or France and with such high competition on the wings, is perhaps more of a flight risk than his teammates.

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That leaves Akira Ioane, Finlay Christie and Ethan Blackadder, whose last known contracts came to an end following the 2021 season. All three are clearly still under contract with NZR, but may have simply signed one-year extensions.

While it would be a massive shock to see any All Blacks – or players on the peripheries of the squad – call time on their careers in Aotearoa and head offshore with a World Cup in sight, NZR still won’t be taking any chances and will be furiously working to keep some of the nation’s top talent firmly planted at home for the foreseeable future.

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