Rugby: NZ Rugby rejects captain Sam Cane's call for leniency towards offshore All Blacks

NZ Rugby is standing its ground over All Blacks selection eligibility, after national captain Sam Cane fuelled the narrative from Japan.

Cane has used his official media introduction with the Suntory Sungoliath club to question the viability of current rules that require players to support domestic competitions in New Zealand.

The national team has lost several frontline stars to lucrative foreign contracts after the Rugby World Cup, some of whom are young enough to represent their country for many years to come.

NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson & All Blacks captain Sam Cane.
NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson & All Blacks captain Sam Cane. Photo credit: Photosport

First-five Richie Mo'unga, 29, is the best example, signing with Japanese club Toshiba Brave Lupus and turning down the chance to play under his former Crusaders mentor, Scott Robertson, as he assumes the All Blacks reins.  

Robertson has already hinted he wants the rules changed and Cane has thrown his support behind that movement, but the national body has issued a statement, rejecting the notion, at least in the short term.

"The existing criteria remains a key foundation of New Zealand rugby's legacy and success," it said. "The current criteria enables senior, long-serving players - in both the men's and women's game - the opportunity to play overseas and then return to New Zealand as part of a long-term commitment.

"NZR continues to look at ways to maintain the competitiveness of competitions and national teams globally. Any significant change to the criteria is not foreseeable in the short term and would require significant consultation with all our stakeholders."

While the response is unattributed, it echoes the sentiments previously expressed by chief executive Mark Robinson on the matter.

Opening the door to a fullscale exodus would certainly undermine the credibility of Super Rugby Pacific, a fear expressed by Cane's captaincy predecessor, Kieran Read, on AM.

"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 said. "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 and deputy Ardie Savea will both miss the next Super Rugby season, while they take sabbaticals in Japan, but can return to the All Blacks afterwards.

Cane points to the champion Springboks, who have won back-to-back World Cups, while allowing their players to pursue contracts around the globe.

"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.   

Richie Mo'unga in action for the All Blacks.
Richie Mo'unga in action for the All Blacks. Photo credit: Getty Images

"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."