ED­I­TOR’S LET­TER

NZ Rugby World - - Contents - Gre­gor Paul, Ed­i­tor

NO ONE COULD POS­SI­BLY DIS­AGREE that Rieko Ioane is a spe­cial player with the po­ten­tial to be an All Blacks great.

His story so far is in­cred­i­ble. He has al­ready played at the Olympics, scored on his test de­but when he was only 19 and been crowned World Rugby’s best emerg­ing player.

Maybe more im­por­tantly, he’s a must pick for the All Blacks and a crit­i­cal part of their World Cup plan.

He showed that last year when he was the man who kept mak­ing things hap­pen. Look back to the first test against the Lions and he scored two tries that proved why he’s so valu­able.

The sec­ond in par­tic­u­lar looked a lit­tle for­tu­nate but it wasn’t at all – it was all down to his pace. He gath­ered a loose ball and within three me­tres he’d es­caped the clutches of El­liot Daly and found the space to break free and score.

No one else in the All Blacks could have done that, and then there was the try he scored in Syd­ney where he stood up Is­rael Fo­lau and the two tries he scored in Cardiff which were, again, all about his pace, power and tim­ing.

As All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said af­ter that last game of the year against Wales, Ioane could be any­thing he wants to be in this game as long as he keeps his feet on the ground.

Oh, and as long as he signs a con­tract to stay in New Zealand. Re­tain­ing Ioane is now the sin­gle most im­por­tant piece of busi­ness fac­ing New Zealand Rugby.

They sim­ply have to make sure the 21-year-old signs a long-term deal to be here through to the 2023 World Cup.

And the im­por­tance of Ioane ex­tends be­yond his abil­ity and the con­tri­bu­tion he’s likely to make on the field. There is an el­e­ment now of sym­bol­ism – or at least per­cep­tion sur­round­ing Ioane.

The bat­tle to re­tain ta­lent in New Zealand has been never-end­ing since the game turned pro­fes­sional. For the most part, and cer­tainly in the last 10 years, NZR has been win­ning.

They have kept the play­ers they wanted to with the odd ex­cep­tion. The big names, though, have all com­mit­ted their best years to the All Blacks. Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter, Kieran Read, Ma’a Nonu, Con­rad Smith and Ben Smith – they have all turned down big of­fers to stay here well into their 30s.

But in the last few years the pic­ture has al­tered a lit­tle. The big names are still com­mit­ting to stay here: Sam White­lock, Sam Cane, Dane Coles, Beau­den Bar­rett and Aaron Smith, for ex­am­ple.

How­ever, NZR has not been so suc­cess­ful at keep­ing those on the fringes of the All Blacks. Char­lie Fau­muina, Aaron Cru­den and Lima Sopoaga have all made de­ci­sions to move on in the last 12 months.

The for­mer two, be­tween 2012 and 2016, were regular picks in the match day 23. They were an im­por­tant part of the set-up and both would have con­tin­ued to be through to the next World Cup.

But the idea of be­ing on the bench be­tween now and 2019 didn’t hold enough ap­peal for ei­ther. They felt they would be bet­ter served head­ing to France where they would not only earn sig­nif­i­cantly more money, but also be pre­sented with fresh play­ing chal­lenges.

Sopoaga took over Cru­den’s role as back-up No 10 in Au­gust 2016 and the thrill of that only lasted for 12 months as he too has de­cided it’s not enough and has signed with Wasps.

This is all a bit of a worry for NZR as th­ese play­ers are im­por­tant. Depth is ev­ery­thing in test foot­ball and the All Blacks can’t af­ford to have such a prom­i­nent tier vul­ner­a­ble to off­shore of­fers.

Th­ese de­fec­tions also have an­other con­se­quence, which is that they in­flu­ence how other play­ers are think­ing.

Play­ers aren’t stupid. If their peers be­gin to leave in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers, it will tip the bal­ance and be­come the more com­mon path.

And if any­one doubts that, look at the sit­u­a­tion in South Africa which we cover in this is­sue.

The sit­u­a­tion there is dire. They have vast num­bers of their best play­ers in Europe and Ja­pan and the vol­ume of traf­fic is in­creas­ing.

They have lost the re­cruit­ment war and are now hav­ing to man­age things as best they can.

New Zealand can’t af­ford to find it­self in the same po­si­tion and Ioane, with the world at his feet, will be mak­ing a huge state­ment if he signs on for more with the All Blacks.

He will be re­mind­ing a young gen­er­a­tion that there is more to life than money and that New Zealand re­mains the best place for any­one with a holis­tic view of their ca­reer.

More than that, he will be send­ing a mes­sage to the rich club own­ers of Europe that not all Ki­wis are for sale and that it is still a rare win in­deed for any off­shore suitor to lure an All Black.

Of course, for Ioane to stay, he’ll need to be well paid and most likely NZR are go­ing to have to come up with about $6 mil­lion to get their man.

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