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Sam Cane calls on NZR to change All Blacks eligibility rules

By Ben Smith
New Zealand's openside flanker and captain Sam Cane walks on the field with his silver medal after South Africa won the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, on October 28, 2023. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP) (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

All Blacks captain Sam Cane has suggested that New Zealand Rugby review the eligibility rules as he prepares to play for the Tokyo Sungoliath during his playing sabbatical.


Cane joins backrow teammate Ardie Savea in Japan on a contracted sabbatical, but there are other All Blacks in Japan that are not signed with NZR and therefore ineligible to play Test rugby with the All Blacks.

Most notably is former Crusaders first five Richie Mo’unga, who at 29-years-old would potentially have many years left to play for the All Blacks.

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His three-year deal with the Toshiba Brave Lupus ensures that would not happen until 2027 at the earliest, however Mo’unga stated he would like to play in Japan “until I retire”.

Other players include blindside flanker Shannon Frizell, also at Brave Lupus, and Beauden Barrett who is on a one-year deal at Toyota Verblitz. Veterans Aaron Smith and Brodie Retallick have also joined clubs in Japan but unlikely to resume international duty.

Cane used the Springboks as an example of how their players have been able to manage the demands of international rugby after playing in Japan Rugby League One.

“A lot of the Springboks have shown the ability to play in League One and go back to international rugby fairly quickly and continue to play their best,” Cane said at an introductory news conference in Tokyo.


South Africa’s Rugby World Cup final team had many Japan-based players including Kwagga Smith, Faf de Klerk, Jesse Kriel, Pieter-Steph du Toit and now Cheslin Kolbe, who joins Cane at Tokyo Sungoliath.

“I think the challenge for us guys on shorter term deals will be returning [home] in the hope of playing international rugby again,” Cane said.

“If we play well here and get back, should the opportunity to represent the All Blacks again, that we can show that we’ve improved our games.

“If we can do that, then maybe the conversation can be had at New Zealand Rugby.”


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Bryan 226 days ago

Na don’t change it NZRFU primarily because I think if there’s ever rugby tours again then whoever visits NZ they’ll play against our up and coming All Blacks who play for the provinces/super teams….if the ABs went to South Africa next week how many of the current World champs would we actually play? Not many i’m picking as most ply their trade in Europe or Japan.

Mzilikazi 227 days ago

I just find it ludicrous, that in the professional world rugby is now played in, any nation on earth precludes players operating off shore from playing in the national team.

A run of a few losses for the AB’s would, I feel sure, make NZRU see things in a very different light. Of course that may not happen, as there is still strength in depth a plenty in NZ rugby at home.

But I for one, WB and Irish supporter first, want to continue watching Richie Mo’unga play on the world stage for the AB’s. The man is magic. And ofc, the others to, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell…..even if they do beat us…from time to time only, hopefully.

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