New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson has defended Super Rugby’s All Blacks rest protocols, but admits there will be a review of the controversial policy later this year.
The ‘load management’ policy has come under fire from coaches and commentators who argue that the rule alienates fans, devalues the competition and even negatively impacts players’ careers.
Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown expressed concerns over the policy last week, saying it has “cost a few players their All Black careers”.
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“It’s always been the sort of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read plan, where they need to give those guys all a rest so to keep it all even they make it mandatory to rest every All Black,” Brown told Newstalk ZB‘s Martin Devlin.
“I think in the past it’s actually cost a few players their All Black careers. If you look at the Highlanders, guys like Malakai Fekitoa, Waisake Naholo, Elliot Dixon, those sort of guys who actually didn’t get a lot of time for the All Blacks, those guys getting rested as well which didn’t allow them to prepare for Super Rugby. And then their Super Rugby form actually cost them their All Blacks spot.”
Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland has also spoken out against the policy.
Robinson, who took over from Steve Tew as NZ Rugby CEO, said he understood Brown’s criticism but defended the All Blacks selectors.
“I hear Browny’s comments,” Robinson said in an interview with Radio Sport‘s Jim Kayes. “But the other thing I’ll say is that in recent times, certainly in the last 10 to 15 years, the All Blacks selected players including fringe players and they’ve shown an ability to work alongside players that might’ve lacking form but they respect and trust and bring them into the environment and do get game time.
“So I accept that there are many examples that can be pointed to the point that you’ve got there. But there’s also a pretty tight relationship between All Blacks coaches, the selectors and the players that you’re referring to there.
The convention, which has been in place since 2010, is New Zealand’s top players will play 40, 60 and then 80 minutes over the first three rounds of Super Rugby, although that could be managed differently – for example 60/60/60. They also get two weeks either to spend away from the team or to focus on their physical conditioning.
Robinson, a former All Black, said NZ Rugby has tried to find a “delicate balance” with the policy and that it was built with consultation from players.
“I think we also need to understand that we’ve built this off a lot of consultation with players. We have used a lot of sports science and research has gone into it and a lot of thought has gone into it.
“I think it’s also important to understand that most professional teams and leagues now around the world have to manage the workload of players because most seasons across most leagues are simply unsustainable for an athlete to play every minute of every game.
“I think the other benefit of the policy to date is the fact that it’s made things very clear for all parties in this area of what the expectations are. So it’s taken out the grey.”
Despite his staunch defence of the All Blacks protocols, Robinson said a review into the policy will be done sometime this year.
“Overall, we think it’s been a very effective policy and a lot of work has gone into it. But like a lot of things we accept that in any organisation, you’re constantly reviewing and looking at things. And so we’re open to that for the future.”
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