So now we’re all Top League experts, eh?
Yep, gone are the days of assessing potential All Blacks on their domestic form. Now we’re basing our judgements on a bit of mediocre company football from Japan.
But let’s not stop there. If we are going to pick Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick (and maybe not TJ Perenara if John Kirwan’s telling the story) then what’s wrong with those New Zealanders playing English Premiership or French Top 14 footy as well?
We all know that New Zealand Rugby (NZR) is under increasing pressure to pay its player wage bill. Well, why not pass that burden onto overseas owners instead?
I’m exaggerating slightly here for effect, but let’s be frank about this: New Zealanders are watching the Top League with great interest and players will be named in the All Blacks on the back of their stints playing there.
You can argue about how diluted rugby might become here if our better players disappeared en masse but – if our local product was actually that good already – no-one would be watching any matches from Japan. The fact is Super Rugby Aotearoa is okay, but not a lot better than that.
If it were a premium product, maybe we’d actually talk about it.
Instead, the rugby discourse tends to be dominated by Kirwan’s weekly pronouncements and other peripheral issues such as is Ardie Savea a good bloke, should players be able to drink and play music after midnight and where’s Perenara playing next?
Let’s linger on Perenara a moment.
New Zealand has seen the best of him. He’s been a good player, tried very hard, but he isn’t the All Blacks’ future.
So much of the team’s footy is built on the speed of Aaron Smith’s game and yet we insist on replacing him with the comparatively-pedestrian Perenara. It doesn’t make sense.
NZR don’t owe him a living and Perenara’s more than paid any debt he could have owed to the All Blacks and Hurricanes. There’s no drama in the parties going their separate ways.
As for this NRL business? Look, wake me up when something actually happens.
Are the Sydney Roosters low-balling Perenara? No, they’re simply giving him the same pro-rata’d deal that Sonny Bill Williams got a year ago.
A hundred-odd thousand dollars doesn’t sound much for a player of Perenara’s pedigree, but then he’d only be at the club for a month or three anyway. Should he make a success of this mooted move, then maybe it would amount to more than a brief stint.
As it is, the whole thing just smacks of contract negotiation shenanigans; not that NZR should be desperate to re-sign him anyway.
The fact remains, though, that Retallick and Barrett and possibly Perenara are not playing their franchise football in New Zealand and yet will be All Blacks in the near future. Is that right? And if it is, then why can’t we broaden our horizons beyond Japan?
I mean, do we all agree that the rugby there is of a weaker standard than Europe? So is it that weakness that makes picking blokes from there more palatable or are we kidding ourselves about how well Barrett et al are going?
If you want to select a player capable of beating the best opposition in the world, chances are you wouldn’t look in Japan for him.
South Africa, even though it feels like a lifetime since we saw the Springboks in action, are world champions thanks in some part to picking players from offshore. Their economy, like ours, isn’t strong enough to pay players their market value, but still they make it work.
Rugby in New Zealand – as we’re all well aware – is going broke. Deals, such as the proposed one with Silver Lake, will offer NZR a temporary solution, but the game can’t sustain the wage demands of our leading players.
So why are we happy to pick some from Japan, but not others from elsewhere? Let’s just be grown ups about this and admit that it’s all right if our leading players leave the country.
We’ll all be glued to their games anyway, given how underwhelmed we appear to be with the rugby here.
European football has been rocked by news of a proposed Super League, with England’s six biggest clubs among those said to be onboard.
Whether we like the idea or not, rugby will inevitably try to follow a similar path and it would be the height of naivety to assume market forces won’t eventually prevail and that our leading players won’t want to swap Dunedin and Hamilton for more lucrative and glamorous opportunities elsewhere.
And when they do, we should have no problem picking them for All Blacks’ duty.
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