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How the All Blacks XV could backfire on NZ Rugby

By Tom Vinicombe
Pita Gus Sowakula and Quinten Strange. (Photos by Getty Images)

Will the All Blacks XV act as another carrot to prevent New Zealand’s next generation of talent from taking their services offshore, or could it have the opposite effect?


The new 28-man squad will travel north to take on Ireland A and the Barbarians in the coming weeks while the All Blacks will be tackling Japan, Wales, Scotland and England on their end-of-year tour.

With the World Cup taking place next year, the All Blacks XV will add depth to NZ’s selection stocks and will provide opportunities for the likes of Patrick Tuipulotu, Brad Weber and TJ Perenara to accrue some much-needed international minutes should they be needed in France, even though they’ve missed out on the first-string side.

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“This is a fantastic opportunity for those players to experience a national team environment and prove themselves on the international stage, or for those who have already worn the All Blacks jersey to get more game time at this level and potentially earn a recall to the team,” said New Zealand Rugby’s chief rugby office Nigel Cass in early 2020, when the new venture was first announced.

“[The existence of the All Blacks XV] will aid with retention of players and personnel in New Zealand, which will benefit our Super Rugby clubs and provincial unions as well as the All Blacks,” he added.

On the one hand, you can see where Cass is coming from; NZ’s top professionals now have a second team to aim for should their dreams of earning an All Blacks call-up fall short. The side can be a stepping stone for aspiring talent while also adding a few extra dollars to the 28 players’ payslips (not to mention the coaches, management and other support staff who also travel with the team).

The flip side, of course, is that it also takes some of the mystique out of national selection.


Whenever an All Blacks squad is announced, there’s almost as much discussion surrounding the men who missed out as there is the men who earned selection.

While the coaches will sometimes shed a little bit of light on why a recent All Black has missed the cut, they never divulge too much information. They also generally avoid commenting on players who haven’t been in the set-up before.

This is perhaps as frustrating for the players as it is for the fans but it does ensure there’s always an air of mystery around who’s knocking on the selection door without quite getting themselves over the line.



It also means that the large majority of players never really know where they stand in the pecking order. Perhaps they were just one spot in the pecking order away from earning a first-ever international call-up, or perhaps they weren’t even in consideration for the squad – but the unknown means there’s an incentive to keep pushing and there’s an incentive to remain in the country because you might just be an injury away from playing for the All Blacks.

That mystery has now been squashed following the announcement of the 28-man All Blacks XV.

“It gives this tour even more meaning knowing that the All Blacks selectors have these players in their sights,” coach Leon MacDonald said after naming the squad. “It gives them [the players] a boost, and the opportunity to perform in front of them.”

The likes of Aidan Ross, Angus Ta’avao, Asafo Aumua, Luke Jacobson, Tuipulotu, Weber and Perenara might not have done enough to win spots in the All Blacks but they know they’re very much still on the selection radar while youngsters George Bell, Finlay Brewis, Zach Gallagher, Dominic Gardiner, Cam Roigard and Ruben Love will be acutely aware that if they play their cards right and develop in the way the All Blacks’ coaches anticipate, a black jersey could be theirs in the near future.

Spare a thought for the men who missed out, however.

Ollie Norris, Pouri Rakete-Stones and Jermaine Ainsley now know they’d need half a dozen props to go down injured before a Test debut is on the cards.

Powerhouse hooker Tyrone Thompson will have realised he has fallen behind 20-year-old George Bell in the pecking order, despite looking every inch a future Test hooker when featuring for either the Chiefs or Hawke’s Bay over the past year.

Quinten Strange, who was called into the All Blacks in 2020 and has now been working his way back into form thanks to an injury-free season with Tasman, has now learned he isn’t one of the top eight locks in the country.

Even with injuries ruling out fellow loose forwards Ethan Blackadder and Cullen Grace from contention, 2022 debutant Pita Gus Sowakula can’t get a look in with the second-string All Blacks XV.

There will be countless players across the country who will be in a similar boat, men who in the past would’ve believed themselves to be within a stone’s throw of finally cracking the mythical All Blacks squad – and that belief is what has undoubtedly kept a considerable number of older players plying their trade in New Zealand when they could have picked up a tidy sum of cash by taking their services overseas.

Of course, the men who’ve missed out on selection All Blacks XV aren’t forever blocked from eventually cracking the top side – but the mental hit from missing out on the XV will far exceed the hit they would have taken from simply missing out on the top squad.

It would be a different story if the All Blacks XV focussed solely on young players in order to fast-track them to Test-readiness but that’s evidently not been the edict for this current squad, with a number of older players included such as 33-year-old Bryce Heem.

The new All Blacks XV will undoubtedly boost New Zealand’s depth in the years to come but it could also have the unwanted side effect of signalling to those that miss out on selection that it might be time to start looking offshore. NZR may have just opened up a can of worms.


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