Rugby: Changing All Blacks' eligbility rules dangerous for game in New Zealand, warns former skipper Kieran Read

Allowing All Blacks players to ply their trade in overseas competitions and remain eligible for test selection would be a step too far, believes former captain Kieran Read.   

As New Zealand rugby enters a new era after the 2023 World Cup in France, eligibility is an ever-increasing sticking point for coaches and players.   

As he was unveiled by Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath, All Blacks captain Sam Cane urged NZ Rugby to reconsider its position on picking overseas-based players. 

Kieran Read leads the All Blacks' haka.
Kieran Read leads the All Blacks' haka. Photo credit: Getty Images

Currently, players must be contracted to a New Zealand franchise or union to be eligible for All Blacks selection, ensuring Kiwi talent remains in Aotearoa and keeps the national game strong. 

Previously, players would look offshore as they approached the end of their playing careers.   

After this year's World Cup, Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick, Dane Coles and Sam Whitelock have all left New Zealand, ending their careers as All Blacks, while Beauden Barrett's future is unclear.

The lure of the Yen and the Euro is proving too strong for younger players to turn down, causing them to choose between cash or country.   

Richie Mo'unga, 29, has all but said goodbye to New Zealand by signing with Japanese club Toshiba Brave Lupus, while Leicester Fainga'anuku has signed for Toulon - both walking away from the black jersey with plenty of rugby ahead of them.   

NZ Rugby has moved towards mitigating a player drain by allowing key players to leave on sabbaticals, helped by a new partnership with Japan. Cane and Ardie Savea have taken up that option, with both maintaining their All Blacks eligibility in 2024. 

NZ Rugby can't allow players to take those deals en masse, without weakening Super Rugby Pacific.   

Read played more than 100 times for the All Blacks and 150 times for the Crusaders, but insists loosening restrictions and allowing players to leave New Zealand for Japan or Europe must be avoided at all costs.   

"From my point of view, I don't think NZ Rugby, the All Blacks or anyone could survive, if we end up going down that route, just yet," he told AM.   

"We need our guys playing in New Zealand. We need a strong competition that's getting fans along to games, getting them engaged, keeping them engaged here in New Zealand.   

"We can't be doing that, if we're off playing around the world."   

Cane cites South Africa as an example of allowing players to leave, while remaining eligible for their national team.   

With players based in Europe and Japan, as well as South Africa, the Springboks have won the past two World Cups and became the first nation to lift the Webb Ellis Cup four times in the process.   

While that scenario might work for South Africa, Read warns player welfare would suffer if New Zealand followed suit. 

Ardie Savea and Sam Cane will both play next season in Japan.
Ardie Savea and Sam Cane will both play next season in Japan. Photo credit: Getty Images

Instead, sabbatical clauses in player contracts are enough to allow players to take up deals overseas, he believes.    

"The seasons don't quite align," Read continued. "We've seen in South Africa, although it can work for them in some ways, they end up playing literally all year round, because there's no break between the international and club season.   

"I don't see it happening right now, I don't think it needs to.   

"Certainly, the opportunities to have sabbaticals and stuff is going to keep the guys in New Zealand a bit longer, I hope."