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New Zealand Rugby: Early homecoming for Richie Mo'unga still on the cards

By Ned Lester
Richie Mo'unga at All Blacks training. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

All Blacks personnel have been chipping away at Richie Mo’unga following his decision to sign a three-season deal with Japan Rugby League One’s Toshiba Brave Lupus, and reports this week suggest the star playmaker may be starting to consider an early homecoming.


New Zealand Rugby have made no secret of their disappointment over Mo’unga’s long-term offshore deal, and having watched the seven-time Super Rugby Pacific champion lead his new Tokyo team to 14 wins from 16 games this season, the idea of missing out on one of rugby’s premier talents during his prime isn’t sitting all that comfortably.

The national union’s general manager of professional rugby, Chris Lendrum, provided some clarity on where the situation currently sits.

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“It’s no secret New Zealand Rugby were sorry to see Richie leave at the time he did and we would like him back,” Lendrum told the Rugby Direct podcast. “You can imagine we’ve been talking to Richie, and others, while they’re offshore.

“Plan A is to get him back on a fulltime contract as soon as we can. That involves working with his agent.”

When pressed for more specifics, Lendrum had no updates to give, as New Zealand Rugby want to go about the conversation while respecting the contract currently in place.

“That’s a contractual matter and we work through that with his agent and him. I know Richie would love to pull on the black jersey again. We have to see when that can be. Then you work back from there.

“The fundamental is a player is committed, wants to play for the All Blacks, wants to be back in New Zealand, otherwise we’re talking about picking All Blacks from offshore – which is not in the plans.

“We would love Richie home as soon as we can. There are contracts. We respect those. He’s employed by Toshiba currently but we’ll be involved in conversations to see what’s possible.”

The New Zealand Herald report claimed Mo’unga’s salary with Toshiba was in the ballpark of $2.2 million NZD per season, a figure well beyond New Zealand Rugby’s offer range.

Yet the focus remains on bringing Mo’unga back to Super Rugby, rather than making an exemption for Mo’unga to be eligible for All Blacks selection while fulfilling his contract in Japan.

While All Blacks coach Scott Robertson has been vocal in his ambition to have exemptions available when selecting his squads, Lendrum agrees it is likely to happen one day, but not for some time yet.

“I imagine every day that goes by it’s coming closer but it’s still a long, long way in the distance,” Lendrum said of All Blacks selection from offshore.

“The granting of sabbaticals or exemptions from our eligibility criteria are ultimately decided by the New Zealand Rugby board. Razor has come in and said ‘I’d like everybody to keep an open mind’. He hasn’t said too much more than that.

“Quite rightly as the All Blacks head coach he’s engaged in discussions with us as management about how we think it looks, what the risks are around players generally. As an All Blacks coach, like we do, he has conversations with players when they’re offshore.”


Overseas eligibility is just one proposed evolution of the selection rules, with the expansion of selection for the non-New Zealand-based Super Rugby Pacific teams another.

“Having our best players playing consistently in New Zealand has been a critical part of our success,” Lendrum said. “You move away from that only in small steps and very cautiously. You’ve seen a small evolution in our sabbatical rules over the last 10 to 12 years.

“In order to move to a situation where we picked players from across Super Rugby Pacific, which is something that has been talked about and it’s not something we’re fundamentally closed to, the conditions have to be right.

“You have to look around the competition and say everybody involved has quality coaching, is investing in high performance so there’s enough medical care, physio support and they’re all producing an equivalent amount of talent.

“You can’t have a situation where New Zealand subsidises the talent of the competition. You’d want Australians populating New Zealand teams that New Zealanders are interested in watching and raise the standard of New Zealand teams, and vice versa.

“It’s not as simple as turning a key on eligibility. We will be very careful with how we expand and adjust our eligibility rules because the success of our teams in black is bottom line for New Zealand rugby and the country as a whole.”


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Chesterfield 62 days ago

The evidence is not strong that this is necessary.
Mounga choked on clutch kicks in the WRC final and lost the match by not performing his core goal kicking role to the level required.
He also choked in the Semi final against England and was targeted as the weak point in the defence allowing them to score.
Not a test great frankly.
Why bend the rules for a player that is competent but not brilliant at test level?

monty 67 days ago

One would hope when a player of such caliber is approached for transfer is traversed a lot more carefully. The question I ask, “is the players agent raising red flags in the first instance of contact”.
By what I read assumptions are made by nzr based on player welfare provided to them. So what is that? Is it a wholistic approach where family balance is taken into account. Because thay’s what’s in the mix when players go off shore. I realize the money is a huge factor but when negotiations are initiated is nzr involved. As Lendrum says having our best players available is paramount to our success
So here’s hoping they are effectively communicating.

Chiefs Mana 67 days ago

Will be humbling coming back and playing second fiddle to Dmac.

Utiku Old Boy 67 days ago

Sounds like quite a bit of development has occurred regarding Mo’unga’s situation. Either NZR has stepped up their offer (big time) or RMo has had a reality check on what it will be like to be outside of the high performance environment of AB rugby. Maybe both. It reads like there are only a few remaining details to be sorted out before it is a done deal.

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