Scott Robertson speaking at his first press conference as New Zealand head coach. Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

New boss Robertson wants overseas players to be available for All Blacks

‘I just want to keep an open mind, so I can select the best players available.’

NEW ALL BLACKS coach Scott Robertson has been pressing New Zealand Rugby to change its sacrosanct rule banning overseas-based players from Test selection, saying he wanted to pick from the best available.

The governing body has refused to budge on the issue, believing selecting players enticed overseas on big-money contracts would weaken the domestic game at Super Rugby and provincial level.

As recently as last month, chief executive Mark Robinson said they were “really happy” with demands that All Blacks selection be restricted to players based in New Zealand.

But Robertson said he had asked the board to “keep an open mind” at his first press conference since taking over as All Blacks coach,

“That’s what I’ve asked for … keep an open mind where the game is at the moment, it’s moving quite quickly, as we know,” Robertson said, insisting he wanted to “be a step ahead” of the competition.

When asked about fly-half Richie Mo’unga, a standout performer for the All Blacks at the World Cup last year but now on a three-year contract with Japanese club Toshiba, Robertson preferred to give a general answer.

“I have got to get in front of a few people, have a few conversations, catch a few eyes, have some chats, I think it’s important we do that, respect for all options,” he said.

“I just want to keep an open mind, so I can select the best players available for the All Blacks.”

Opinion on the issue is divided among players and coaches.

Ian Foster, who coached the All Blacks to last year’s World Cup final, where they were beaten 12-11 by South Africa, has said Robertson’s idea made “some academic sense” but would be a “disaster” for the game in New Zealand.

Sam Cane, who captained the All Blacks in recent years, has called for the eligibility rule to be reviewed, while his predecessor Kieran Read has doubted that the All Blacks “could survive if we end up going down that route”.

From last year’s World Cup squad, veterans such as Cane, Ardie Savea and Beauden Barrett are on short-term contracts overseas and will return to New Zealand before the 2024 Test season.

However, Mo’unga, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Shannon Frizell are on longer deals with overseas clubs and are currently ineligible.

– © AFP 2024

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