Crusaders in talks with NZ sprint prodigy following Olympics snub
RugbyPass can reveal the Christchurch-based franchise has spoken to Osei-Nketia’s management team about the possibility of a cross-code move in the wake of the 20-year-old’s high-profile exclusion from New Zealand’s Olympic track and field team.
Osei-Nketia was one of many track and field athletes who were controversially excluded from the New Zealand squad named to compete at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
While Osei-Nketia failed to meet the Olympic qualification standard time of 10.05s, an overhaul of the qualifying system for Tokyo 2020 meant athletes could qualify through a combination of performances and world rankings.
Following a season where he ran a personal best time of 10.12s in Brisbane four months ago – leaving him just 0.01s shy of the New Zealand record, held by his father Gus – Osei-Nketia had qualified for the Olympics under World Athletics’ Road to Tokyo rankings.
However, the New Zealand Olympic Committee [NZOC] denied Osei-Nketia a place in the Olympic squad as he claims, under NZOC selection policy, they didn’t see him as a contender to finish in the top 16 in his event.
Speaking to RugbyPass from Canberra, Osei-Nketia said the NZOC’s decision to exclude him from the Olympic squad left him “devastated”, “shocked”, “betrayed”, “hurt”, “frustrated” and “angry” as he surveys his options for the future.
Among the possibilities being considered is a switch to rugby union, a prospect Osei-Nketia has been vocal about ever since he burst onto the scene after claiming the New Zealand and Australian 100m titles in convincing fashion as a 17-year-old in 2019.
Asked whether he has fielded any interest from within rugby circles in the wake of his Olympics snub, Osei-Nketia revealed his manager has been in contact with the Crusaders.
“Last week, my manager told me that the Crusaders were actually keen on me and he said that Scott Robertson wanted to have a chat with me,” Osei-Nketia told RugbyPass.
“I haven’t heard from him yet, but I’m assuming he’s a busy guy. I haven’t heard anything, yet, from anyone else.”
A spokesperson for the Crusaders confirmed the franchise has entered “preliminary discussions” with Osei-Nketia’s management about developing the youngster’s athletic talents in a “high-performance rugby environment”.
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“I can confirm Eddie’s management team reached out to the Crusaders about his desire, having missed out on Olympic selection, to pursue a professional career in rugby,” the Crusaders spokesperson told RugbyPass.
“These were preliminary discussions to explore what opportunities and pathways are available to Eddie, to fulfil his athletic potential within a high performance rugby environment.
“However, these conversations have not extended to the possibility of bringing Eddie to the Crusaders, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment further.”
While nothing about Osei-Nketia’s rugby-playing future is set in stone, he said it would be a dream to play for the Crusaders.
“I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot, wearing the red and playing down in Christchurch in the cold,” he said.
“It’d be a massive honour to play for one of the best teams of all-time in Super Rugby, helping them out and being a part of the Christchurch community.”
However, Osei-Nketia is aware of the difficulties that would come with a move to rugby and conceded he would have to fully devote himself to the sport if he is to suit up for the reigning Super Rugby Aotearoa champions.
“But, in order for me to play for the Crusaders, I need to get there first. I need to work hard, I need to grind hard, and I just need to be on top.
“I need to be studying the game. I need to make sure that I’m always studying and putting my mind on small things so I can get there one day.”
Osei-Nketia said he believes the facilities on offer at the Crusaders could help transform him into an “elite rugby player”.
“It looks like a pretty elite academy that can transfer rugby players to elite rugby players. If I go through the academy, I believe that I could change into a very, very talented rugby player. That’s what I think.”
This isn’t the first time a Kiwi rugby outfit has shown interest in Osei-Nketia, as New Zealand Rugby [NZR] invited him to attend their Red Bull Ignite Sevens event in a non-playing capacity two years ago.
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The then-teenager, who stood at 1.90m and 95kg, left NZR officials in awe of his physical and athletic prowess.
“I’ve never seen an athlete with those genetics, ever,” NZR’s high performance sevens talent ID manager PJ Williams said at the time.
“He is 99 percent fast twitch muscle fibre. I’ve never seen an athlete [like Osei-Nketia] walk through our doors in rugby, ever. And we probably never will see one again.”
Osei-Nketia’s coach Gary Henley-Smith told RugbyPass in January that the sprinter remains “under the radar of New Zealand Rugby” and that a move to rugby is something that is commonly spoken about between the pair.
At the time, Osei-Nketia added that he would wait until after the Olympics before making a decision on his rugby future, but now he says he is “open to anything” after feeling disenfranchised by the NZOC.
“Honestly, man, I’m open to anything at this point. I’m open to maybe switching careers, in the pathway down, start a new beginning. Hopefully I can find a rugby team that can sharpen up my skills and hopefully we’ll see how far I can get.”
In addition to his appearance at the 2019 Red Bull Ignite Sevens, Osei-Nketia’s rugby experience extends back to his time at St Edmund’s College in Canberra, where he was schooled before moving to Scots College in Wellington.
He told RugbyPass earlier this year that he averaged “two to three” tries per match while playing schoolboy rugby in the Australian capital, although he didn’t get the chance to play for Scots College as his athletics career took off.
After a lengthy hiatus from the footy field, Osei-Nketia said he has the backing of his sprint coaches to switch to the oval ball code as a result of the NZOC’s stance on his involvement at the Olympics.
“After what happened, I think they don’t care what’s best for me,” Osei-Nketia said of the NZOC. “Stuff like this happens and it affects my career. Wherever I succeed the most, they [his coaches] will be happy.”
Before any cross between codes takes place, though, Osei-Nketia will watch the Olympics, which officially begins on Friday, from afar and support those who have been selected to represent New Zealand in Tokyo.
“Let’s hope that we can get gold. I’ll be keeping a good eye on the All Blacks Sevens. The All Blacks Sevens will come in the top three, I reckon,” Osei-Nketia said. “Go the Kiwis.”
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