There will be no All Blacks present at next year’s Tokyo Olympics as the New Zealand sevens side push for a maiden gold medal, and the departure of Steve Hansen from the national set-up may have played a significant role in that being the case.
Earlier this year, four players – Caleb Clarke (Blues), Etene Nanai-Seturo (Chiefs), Salesi Rayasi (Hurricanes) and Scott Gregory (Highlanders) – were granted release from their Super Rugby clubs to pursue their Olympic dreams in Japan.
It came after nationwide invitations were sent out by All Blacks Sevens head coach Clark Laidlaw last September in a bid to attract the country’s top talent to chase Olympic glory following the failed campaign of Rio 2016, but no All Blacks were persuaded to accept it.
Instead, Laidlaw has been left with four Super Rugby players with plenty of game time on the international sevens circuit rather than any test match experience.
It is believed that the likes of Rieko Ioane, Ben Smith and George Bridge would have been among those approached to attend a meeting regarding the All Blacks Sevens’ Olympic campaign 12 months ago, although, when approached by Stuff, New Zealand Rugby Head of High Performance Mike Anthony didn’t confirm which individuals were shoulder-tapped.
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“At the end of the day those [All Blacks] players have made a decision that they want to focus their energy elsewhere, given the challenges at the end of the year and coaching and so on,” Anthony said.
“They have made that choice pretty early on in the process. So they let us know, which allowed us to focus on the group that were keen to be a part of it.”
Similarly, Anthony didn’t disclose the All Blacks’ reasoning for turning down the opportunity to attend the global quadrennial event, but it may well have come to Hansen’s resignation as head coach of the All Blacks at the end of this year.
Fans don't get why all four punished players have received the same sanction at the World Cuphttps://t.co/yRkr5wmqOI
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 27, 2019
The 60-year-old will end his 16-year association with the national side following the World Cup, making way for a new coach, with one of either All Blacks assistant Ian Foster or Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson touted to take the reins from 2020.
A new boss coming into power next year would likely have put the current crop of All Blacks who are staying in New Zealand next year on edge, as their selections into the sevens programme could have sent the wrong message to Hansen’s replacement by becoming unavailable.
“That (decision) came down to the players,” Anthony told Stuff.
“We never needed to converse too much around next year, they know where things sit.
“Not only with the changes of the coaches, but with the number of players who are heading away and the opportunities that presents for them whether that be with their club or the ABs.
“I’m sure they will have had a really a lot of balance to this … and made a choice and come to that decision. And let us know well in advance, which is a good thing.”
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