All Blacks are net­ting big bucks at for­eign clubs; the Cru­saders, mean­time, scored a first in Joburg.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - by Paul Thomas

All Blacks are net­ting big bucks at for­eign clubs; the Cru­saders, mean­time, scored a first in Joburg.

New Zealan­ders refuse to ac­cept that the adage “you win some, you lose some” should ap­ply to the All Blacks, but de­nial is not an op­tion when it comes to the nev­erend­ing strug­gle against over­seas clubs bear­ing gifts.

A flurry of de­fec­tions fol­lowed the 2007 World Cup, no­tably Carl Hay­man, the world’s best tight­head prop. But New Zealand Rugby (NZR) had a good run af­ter the 2011 tour­na­ment, with a core of se­nior play­ers headed by Richie McCaw and Dan Carter re­tained and Jerome Kaino re­turn­ing to the fold af­ter a stint in Ja­pan from 2012-13.

Now the pen­du­lum has swung again: All Blacks bench play­ers Aaron Cru­den and Char­lie Fau­muina have headed to France to be joined by Malakai Fek­i­toa and Taw­era Kerr-Bar­low be­fore the year is out. The re­ac­tion to their de­par­tures has been low-key: it’s un­der­stood that NZR can’t hang on to ev­ery­one and it would be un­rea­son­able to ex­pect play­ers who aren’t start­ing All Blacks, de­spite their best ef­forts, to turn down the chance to dou­ble or triple their money.

How­ever, I sus­pect All Blacks coach Steve Hansen glow­ered on hear­ing that for­mer All Black Charles Pi­u­tau isn’t com­ing home any time soon. Hansen was deeply un­happy when Pi­u­tau an­nounced be­fore the 2015 World Cup that he was off to the UK, be­cause the ver­sa­tile, dy­namic and young

– he’s only 25 now – out­side back had been ear­marked to play a big fu­ture role.

Hansen might’ve de­rived com­fort from Pi­u­tau’s sub­se­quent ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est in an even­tual re­turn home with a view to play­ing in the 2019 World Cup. Whether it was a case of Pi­u­tau say­ing what he thought the folks back home wanted to hear or re­al­ity – in the form of an of­fer to make him the world’s high­est-paid rugby player – bit­ing too hard to ig­nore, that’s not hap­pen­ing: Pi­u­tau won’t be back un­til 2020 at the ear­li­est, when he’ll be 28. And Ju­lian Savea’s de­cline is a re­minder that All Blacks out­side backs tend not to age like fine red wine; some in fact, go­ing back to Bryan Wil­liams in the 1970s, have played their best rugby when barely out of their teens.

The Cru­saders were widely feted for de­feat­ing the Li­ons in the Su­per Rugby fi­nal in Johannesburg. Among other things, they were cred­ited with sav­ing the blushes of San­zaar, the shad­owy or­gan­i­sa­tion that runs South­ern Hemi­sphere rugby un­der the self-im­posed hand­i­cap of dis­dain­ing the ba­sic tenets of pub­lic re­la­tions.

San­zaar had been be­rated for de­vis­ing a for­mat that was the op­po­site of a level play­ing field. It then fur­ther fu­elled the sus­pi­cion that the ob­ject of the ex­er­cise was to en­sure a South African team won the tour­na­ment by ap­point­ing a South African to ref­eree the fi­nal.

The Cru­saders dis­armed both crit­i­cisms by be­com­ing the first team in the tour­na­ment’s his­tory to win a fi­nal af­ter trav­el­ling from South Africa to Aus­trala­sia or vice versa. San­zaar’s face­less men should also thank Li­ons loose for­ward Kwagga Smith, who gave ref­eree Jaco Peyper no choice but to red-card him. The is­sue of ref­er­ee­ing neu­tral­ity was ac­cord­ingly de­fused, and the Li­ons’ home ad­van­tage was coun­tered by be­ing a man down for half the game.

It was a great sport­ing week for Can­ter­bury, with Ti­maru shot put­ter Tom Walsh win­ning gold at the IAAF World Cham­pi­onships in London. That quite a few Ki­wis – in­clud­ing the Hur­ri­canes – were ap­par­ently cheer­ing for the Li­ons sug­gests Can­ter­bury’s dom­i­nance of our sport­ing land­scape sticks in some craws.

Cantabri­ans take that for granted; it would have made vic­tory all the sweeter.

Can­ter­bury’s dom­i­nance of our sport­ing land­scape sticks in some craws.

Stay­ing put: £1 mil­lion man Charles Pi­u­tau. Be­low, Cru­saders cap­tain Sam White­lock, left, and shot put­ter Tom Walsh.

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