Rugby: NZ Rugby won't change overseas selection policy, despite new Japan agreement

NZ Rugby remains firm on the current overseas selection policy, despite a new groundbreaking agreement with Japan.

The deal will see the All Blacks play the Brave Blossoms regularly from 2024, with discussions to be held to allow Kiwi Super Rugby sides to face Japan League One teams.

It also includes a commitment to inviting Japan's top women's rugby players to compete in Super Rugby Aupiki and Farah Palmer Cup.

But despite the partnership, NZ Rugby won't relax the overseas selection policy for All Blacks, which will remain in place.

Under the policy, players must reside and play in New Zealand, should they wish to be eligible for higher honours.

Incoming All Blacks coach Scott Robertson has previously stated he is keen to ditch the rule and would make that clear to NZR boss Mark Robinson.

His admission comes after Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo'unga, and Shannon Frizell all signed contracts to play in Japan from next season.

Ardie Savea will also be ineligible for the All Blacks in 2024 after a one-year sabbatical to also play in Japan, as part of his new NZ Rugby contract.

But despite the incoming exodus of veteran players, Robinson has revealed there are no plans to change the existing rule.

Mark Robinson.
Mark Robinson. Photo credit: Photosport

"There is no consideration to change that policy as we sit, right now," he said "There is a discussion from time to time with the board about the eligibility law.

"But there is nothing imminent around a change to that, and certainly, that's not something that will be altered because of this partnership. Very much a status quo position on that. 

"The signing of this MoU doesn't change that, and there is no imminent or existing conversion about that at NZ Rugby at the moment, our position is very clear."

Robinson also shot down any potential of a Japanese team joining Super Rugby once again as part of the new deal.

The Sunwolves previously participated in Super Rugby, but were disbanded after five seasons in 2020.

"That's not on the table as a part of this," he said. "I won't speak for my Japanese colleagues, but I think at this stage, they are very happy with the way League One is developing and growing.

"We are continuing to build Super Rugby Pacific. The key opportunity here is for the two competitions to work together and have some form of crossover.

"But that resulting in a team from Japan coming into Super Rugby is not on the table at present."

While Robinson was also less convinced of Japan joining the Rugby Championship, JRFU CEO Kensuke Iwabuchi was more optimistic.

He admits their lack of involvement in a high-level competition has them feeling left in the dark, and intends to have discussions about a potential inclusion.

"Obviously, we had a very good Rugby World Cup in 2015, and 2019," Iwabuchi said. "But at the moment, we don't really have a regular, high-level competition.

"We only have an opportunity in July and [on the] Northern Tour. Obviously, the Rugby Championship is one of the things that we are targeting.

"The Six Nations and Rugby Championship are the only two options that we can actually go into, otherwise, we can play in Asia or somewhere else.

"We definitely want to talk to SANZAAR about Japan joining the Rugby Championship."