Sir John Kirwan believes Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick should be benched by the All Blacks upon their return to New Zealand from Japan later this year.
The former All Blacks wing also believes New Zealand Rugby [NZR] should not re-sign TJ Perenara beyond this year as he said the national union should be looking ahead to the next generation for the upcoming World Cups.
During his appearance on the latest episode of The Breakdown on Monday, Kirwan said Barrett, who is currently on sabbatical with Suntory Sungoliath in Japan’s Top League, is “going to have to get used to” wearing the No 22 jersey after he played off the bench for the Tokyo-based club over the weekend.
Barrett scored a hat-trick of tries and a total of 25 points in an 18-minute showing for Suntory during their 94-31 thrashing of NTT Communications Shining Arcs at Komazawa Olympic Park on Sunday.
However, Kirwan wasn’t convinced that Barrett’s prolific cameo appearance, and his other match-winning efforts in the Top League, validates a starting spot in the All Blacks.
The 56-year-old said both Barrett and Retallick, who is on sabbatical with Kobelco Steelers, shouldn’t be able to walk back into New Zealand’s starting lineup over those currently plying their trade in Super Rugby Aotearoa due to the comparative lack of defensive intensity in the Top League.
“When I said Beaudy [Barrett] stays in 22, there’s no way that the All Blacks selectors would risk them coming back without knowing the intensity of the Japanese league,” Kirwan said.
“Right now, if you look at that, you think, ‘Well, who was tackling out there?’
“Now, I love the Japanese league, I’ve played it, I’ve coached it, it’s fantastic. Maybe a game at the end of the season would sort that out, but Beaudy and Brodie have to come back and sit on the bench.
“You cannot let our guys play through that [Super Rugby Aotearoa] season, while they’re away, and let them come back and take the 10 [jersey].”
Ex-All Blacks wing Jeff Wilson added that there is a considerable gulf in class between teams at the opposite ends of the table in the Top League, which prevents Kiwi stars from playing in matches of the same intensity that is seen in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
He suggested a cross-over match between the champions of the Top League and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman could alleviate that issue, but Kirwan went one step further and called for full-time Japanese involvement in Super Rugby.
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He indicated that if New Zealanders are facing off against each other in the same competition, regardless of which country they are playing in, then it shouldn’t matter where those players are based.
“My issue is this – we need to expand our game to Japan and they need to be part of our competition,” he said.
“If Beaudy wants to stay there and play and Suntory come down here and get smacked by 60 points, we know that it is a financial sabbatical, but if everyone starts playing up there, we’re playing across our borders, then I don’t see why, some time tomorrow, we can’t pick players from our extended competition.”
Perenara, meanwhile, is another All Black on sabbatical in Japan with the resurgent NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes.
The 29-year-old has been crucial in the Red Hurricanes’ change in fortunes this season as he had helped turn the Osaka-based club into genuine title contenders in 2021 after they were on the receiving end of numerous heavy defeats last year.
That didn’t stop Kirwan from urging NZR to not re-sign Perenara, though, as he labelled the 69-test halfback as a player in the “twilight of his career”.
Instead, the former Italy, Japan and Blues head coach suggested the national union’s money would be better invested in younger players, such as injured Highlanders star Folau Fakatava.
“You can’t re-sign Perenara. You cannot re-sign him,” Kirwan said. “I love the man, don’t get me wrong, but who do you want to keep?”
He added: “I think there’s some young guys coming through and, for the next World Cup, I just think, ‘Look, I’d love to sign him, but if it was a case of signing a couple of younger guys that are gonna get us to the next World Cup, as good and on further, then I just think he’s gonna be [left out]’.
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“We’re talking about the World Cup and going forward, right? So, if you think about TJ, he’s been a great servant of the game, he’s getting to the twilight of his career, and, for me, there’s guys who are starting to stack up that are going to give us another two World Cups.
“TJ should be signed, yeah, but at some stage, you’ve got to [weigh up your options].”
Ex-All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina contested Kirwan’s comments by arguing that if Perenara re-commits to NZR beyond this year and remains one of New Zealand’s top halfbacks leading into the 2023 World Cup, then he couldn’t see why the No 9 shouldn’t be retained.
Kirwan, however, said NZR could retain two promising young halfbacks for less money than it would cost to try and keep Perenara in New Zealand.
“Wouldn’t TJ cost three times as much? That’s what I’m saying. You could probably buy two young guys for his price.”
Upon the announcement of his sabbatical with the Red Hurricanes last October, Perenara said his sojourn in Japan “doesn’t mean it’s the end for me” in New Zealand.
The Red Hurricanes finished the first stage of the Top League in third place on the White Conference standings with four wins from seven matches.
Now entering the play-offs stage of the competition, the Red Hurricanes will square off against the Honda Heat in the round of 16 next Sunday.
Barrett’s Suntory side will also enjoy a week off before facing either NEC Green Rockets or Toyota Shuttles Industries next Saturday.
Retallick’s Kobelco side, meanwhile, will play either the Mitsubishi Dynaboars or Coca-Cola Red Sparks next weekend.
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
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