Rugby: All Blacks captain Sam Cane urges rethink of New Zealand Rugby's overseas eligibility rule

NZ Rugby should reconsider its position of restricting players from representing the All Blacks while based abroad, says captain Sam Cane.   

Currently, any player must be contracted to both the national union and, by extension, one of five Super Rugby franchises to earn test selection.   

In theory, that rule should keep the best and brightest playing in Aotearoa, and preserve the quality of Super Rugby, but reality has seen players forced to choose between national selection and lucrative contracts playing in overseas competitions. 

Sam Cane.
Sam Cane. Photo credit: Getty Images

NZ Rugby-endorsed sabbaticals are the only exceptions, with players like Cane and World Rugby Player of the Year Ardie Savea both spending this upcoming season in Japan, before returning home for test duties.   

New Zealand is the only tier one nation to implement this selection policy, while South Africa has won back-to-back Rugby World Cups and allowed its players to take up contracts all over the world.   

After this year's Rugby World Cup in France, the All Blacks said goodbye to Richie Mo'unga, who has taken up a three-year deal in Japan and is content with the idea of never representing his country again.

For Cane, who has been unveiled by Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath, the example of four-time world champions South Africa should be enough to convince NZR that a rethink could be worthwhile.   

"A lot of the Springboks have shown the ability to play in League One and go back to international rugby fairly quickly, and continue to play their best," he said.   

"The challenge for us, who are on the shorter-term deals in the hope of playing international rugby again, is that we play really well here.   

"Should we get the opportunity to represent the All Blacks again, we've got to show we've improved our games. If not, kick off where we left off.   

"If we can do that, maybe that conversation can be had with NZ Rugby, but I can also see the other side. Having experienced players to bring through young guys in the New Zealand game is equally important.   

"Obviously a lot to consider and well above my pay grade."   

Despite signing a partnership with the Japanese Rugby Football Union earlier this year, NZR chief executive Mark Robinson says the locals-only selection policy will not change any time soon.

However, incoming All Blacks coach Scott Robertson says he will have "conversations" over the validity of the rule in an ever-changing rugby landscape.    

At the start of 2023, All Blacks star Beauden Barrett spoke of the benefits allowing players to head overseas would bring, exposing New Zealand's top talent to different styles and ways of thinking at club level.