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Jordie Barrett's sabbatical isn't going to make a difference for Super Rugby Pacific

By Ben Smith
Richie Mo'unga of New Zealand celebrates with Jordie Barrett of New Zealand after scoring his team's second try during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Uruguay at Parc Olympique on October 05, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The sabbatical as a retention tool for keeping top All Blacks around has been widely criticised but is more attractive than the alternative.


If Jordie Barrett decided to link with Toyota Verblitz for three years and disappear, how does that help the All Blacks and Super Rugby Pacific?

The short answer is it doesn’t. Which is why NZR has to come to the table and accomodate such a move. It’s a smart business decision.

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New Zealand Rugby losing a player like Richie Mo’unga again at 29-years-old is a situation to avoid as long as the current eligibility rules are in place.

If all avenues were explored with Mo’unga and they couldn’t come to an agreement, so be it.

But to play hard ball in negotiations, roll back sabbatical offers, doesn’t serve NZR’s own interests.

The sunk cost investment in Mo’unga for New Zealand Rugby is huge. He’s been the starting No. 10 for the All Blacks at two Rugby World Cups. He’s been Super Rugby’s best player every year for over half a decade.He holds experience that could prove invaluable in 2027.

And now he isn’t available to All Blacks for at least three years.

Even if he was given two sabbaticals back-to-back, it would be better than none at all.


Barrett will miss one Super Rugby season and play the next two after his stint with Leinster.

This is the club that turned Jamison Gibson-Park into a world class No. 9 and James Lowe into an international calibre winger. It isn’t going to be a walk in the park and will likely do Barrett’s game good.

Super Rugby Pacific’s ills go deeper than the pulling power of one exceptional All Black. Simple fixes can make this product more interesting.

Rolling back the playoffs-for-everybody structure that makes the regular season redundant is first on the list.

Just four playoff spots would make this current season’s race real, with pressure on all sides every week. The lack of consequences currently allows for less intensity, huge player rotations, and of course, less incentive to watch.


The undefeated Hurricanes at 8-0 would not yet be assured of a finals berth, let alone the top seed. The Blues too, would have to maintain a winning pace.

The Crusaders should be mathematically ruled out already but unfortunately they still could make it despite holding a 1-7 record.

The competition’s integrity would be raised if they were denied a sniff at the title, or any other team that sports a losing record for that matter.

The second easy fix is the length. With eight out of 12 teams guaranteed to make the playoffs, there is absolutely no need for 15 rounds of regular season action.

We could cut this competition down to 12 weeks, with each team playing everyone just once with one bye week. Then two more rounds for semi-finals and a final.

This would cut four weeks of meaningless Super Rugby fat out of the calendar, meanwhile strengthening the entire competition as a product. We could start in mid-March and not go head-to-head with cricket in the height of summer.

With an extra month off, there would be no reason to rest stars, and they wouldn’t want to either. Every regular season game matters when you are fighting for just four playoff spots.

That brings back some intensity to the competition and moves it a step away from just being a development playground.

The first counter-argument to cutting down the length of the season will be the loss of TV revenue to support the current cost base. Maybe the TV revenue can stay the same with guarantees the on-field product will be stronger.

That extra month in the calendar could support pre-season tours overseas if needed, to Japan and Europe as was seen in 2024.

However, improved competition integrity would offset the loss of any star All Black on a sabbatical.



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Diarmid 9 hours ago
Players and referees must cut out worrying trend in rugby – Andy Goode

The guy had just beasted himself in a scrum and the blood hadn't yet returned to his head when he was pushed into a team mate. He took his weight off his left foot precisely at the moment he was shoved and dropped to the floor when seemingly trying to avoid stepping on Hyron Andrews’ foot. I don't think he was trying to milk a penalty, I think he was knackered but still switched on enough to avoid planting 120kgs on the dorsum of his second row’s foot. To effectively “police” such incidents with a (noble) view to eradicating play acting in rugby, yet more video would need to be reviewed in real time, which is not in the interest of the game as a sporting spectacle. I would far rather see Farrell penalised for interfering with the refereeing of the game. Perhaps he was right to be frustrated, he was much closer to the action than the only camera angle I've seen, however his vocal objection to Rodd’s falling over doesn't legitimately fall into the captain's role as the mouthpiece of his team - he should have kept his frustration to himself, that's one of the pillars of rugby union. I appreciate that he was within his rights to communicate with the referee as captain but he didn't do this, he moaned and attempted to sway the decision by directing his complaint to the player rather than the ref. Rugby needs to look closely at the message it wants to send to young players and amateur grassroots rugby. The best way to do this would be to apply the laws as they are written and edit them where the written laws no longer apply. If this means deleting laws such as ‘the put in to the scrum must be straight”, so be it. Likewise, if it is no longer necessary to respect the referee’s decision without questioning it or pre-emptively attempting to sway it (including by diving or by shouting and gesticulating) then this behaviour should be embraced (and commercialised). Otherwise any reference to respecting the referee should be deleted from the laws. You have to start somewhere to maintain the values of rugby and the best place to start would be giving a penalty and a warning against the offending player, followed by a yellow card the next time. People like Farrell would rapidly learn to keep quiet and let their skills do the talking.

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