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'It's been difficult': Ex-All Black's blunt assessment of New Zealand rugby

By Alex McLeod
Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

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Former All Blacks first-five Tom Taylor has delivered a dire assessment about the current state of the All Blacks and rugby in New Zealand.

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Taylor, who played three tests for the All Blacks in 2013, was critical in his view of how the Kiwi game has developed since his departure from New Zealand seven years ago in a journey that has seen him ply his club trade in France and now Japan.

During his time abroad – where he played for Toulon and then Pau between 2015 and 2020 before eventually joining his current club, Toshiba Brave Lupus, last year – Taylor has seen the growth of the domestic game in France’s Top 14.

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The 33-year-old said it’s come as no surprise to him that France have subsequently catapulted to favourites for next year’s World Cup as the development and improvement of their club competition has had a flow-on effect to the country’s national team.

He partially attributed that to the influx of Kiwi talent that has infiltrated not only the Top 14, but various club competitions worldwide.

According to Taylor, that exodus of top players from New Zealand has had a negative impact on the quality of the game in his homeland while also propping up the level of competition overseas.

The former Crusaders pivot said that, in part, has played a role in the increased competitiveness of the global game in test rugby.

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“People are starting to say, ‘France has just come out of nowhere and they’re playing great rugby’, but, for me, I noticed that change like three years ago,” Taylor said earlier this week.

“I noticed the French competition was getting stronger… when I was over there, I could see their development and see how they were developing year-by-year-by-year, and some of the talent that’s coming through France now is pretty unbelievable, and you’re starting to see that on the international stage.

“It’s difficult because I really feel like New Zealand, it’s almost feels like a younger competition. Personally, I feel like we’re going a little bit backwards. We’re losing our talent too soon.

“Some of that talent is really excelling overseas in the European competitions. Some of the best players in the teams are Kiwi guys that maybe didn’t get their shot or left early.

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“I could name a lot of players that are really standing up overseas playing some great rugby, and some of them are even making the top teams, like Johnny McNicholl and Gareth Anscombe.

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“They’ve really come a long way in the competition, and then again in Japan, I’m starting to see the same thing. The teams are starting to get better year-by-year-by-year, they’re learning.

“I think the foreign influence, it creates that learning environment where you’re learning off each other, like I learn off the Japanese boys and they learn off me, so you really keep building that growth in the game.

“That’s why I do think you’re seeing the Japan’s of the world, the French teams, they are getting better and better, and it’s exciting because the competition is so fierce now in world rugby, whereas it used to be the top three or four teams.”

Taylor also believes the impact of New Zealand’s player drain extends to the All Blacks and how they have fared in recent years.

The All Blacks have endured a tough period since following their semi-final exit at the 2019 World Cup, finishing a truncated 2020 season with a win rate of just 50 percent before succumbing to their worst test campaign since 2009 last year.

Led by current boss Ian Foster, who coached Taylor as All Blacks assistant coach in 2013, New Zealand has also suffered its first-ever loss to Argentina, back-to-back defeats to Ireland and France, and further losses against Australia and South Africa.

As such, the All Blacks have dropped to an equal-record low World Rugby ranking of third, and could drop to as far as fourth if they fail to succeed against Ireland in their upcoming three-test series in July.

That led Taylor to describe the ensuing years after the last World Cup as “a difficult period” for the All Blacks, who he said need to be more innovative and try fresh tactics if they are to become the world’s best side once more.

“It’s been difficult, I think, to put it bluntly. It’s been a difficult period. They haven’t been as dominant as I’m sure they would have liked, but sometimes that’s good,” he said.

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“It breeds a bit of change. They need to do things differently. They can’t just rely on what they used to do and do those things well.

“They’ve maybe got to be a bit more innovative and try something new, try some new tactics, some new game plans because the same old thing isn’t working anymore.

“Like I said, these teams are getting better across the world. The All Blacks have always prided themselves on being the top of their game and trying new things, so I think it’ll be an interesting season coming up for them this year.”

Asked why he thinks the All Blacks have struggled in recent years, Taylor suggested the loss of South African teams from Super Rugby may have played a major role in New Zealand’s woes.

The revamped Super Rugby Pacific competition has taken shape without the four South African teams – the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers – all of whom departed to join the United Rugby Championship in Europe.

That has left the New Zealand teams to play each other frequently ever since the global Covid outbreak two years ago, and Taylor suggested that limited exposure to foreign teams could hamstring the All Blacks moving forward.

“I do have my questions. Losing the South African teams to the northern hemisphere, is that having some effect? I feel like we’ve just been consistently playing New Zealand team versus New Zealand team over and over again,” he said.

“For me, you develop a lot playing different styles of rugby. You learn different styles, you know different defences, for instance. I feel like Kiwi teams playing Kiwi teams is often a great game, but is that going to benefit them in the future? I’m not so sure.

“It’s difficult. When you’re playing different line speed teams or different tactical teams, you learn a lot, you learn how to play different styles of rugby, so I have my doubts whether that’s going to come into effect, but we’ll see.”

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