Wynne Gray reck­ons plenty of Euro­pean clubs will be hop­ing to snare more fringe All Blacks like Lima Sopoaga.

WYNNE GRAY IS A FOR­MER SE­NIOR RUGBY WRITER AT THE NEW ZEALAND HER­ALD.

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Mean­while in Europe the in­ter­est will be just as fre­netic. Club coaches, scouts and in­vestors will be draw­ing up lists of po­si­tions they need to strengthen their ros­ters, which All Blacks might fit those cat­e­gories and find­ing out from their man­agers whether there is any in­ter­est.’

AS THE NEW SU­PER RUGBY sea­son ap­proaches, club own­ers in Europe must be sharp­en­ing their fi­nan­cial plans and ze­ro­ing in on a stack of All Blacks they think are ready to be picked off.

They’ve watched Malakai Fek­i­toa, Aaron Cru­den, Taw­era Kerr-Bar­low, Char­lie Fau­muina and now Lima Sopoaga swap their All Blacks chances of mak­ing the 2019 Rugby World Cup for the lure of life and fi­nan­cial re­wards in the North­ern Hemi­sphere.

The clubs will be hugely en­cour­aged by that ex­o­dus of New Zealand tal­ent and be­lieve they can turn it into a stronger flow be­fore the end of the year.

They might even tar­get a few ma­jor names on the ev­i­dence that Charles Pi­u­tau re­lin­quished his test ca­reer be­cause of an ex­tra­or­di­nary of­fer but they’ll an­tic­i­pate all the se­nior pros will stay for the 2019 World Cup.

That tour­na­ment is an in­cen­tive for all the top-level play­ers and a defin­ing line for those who are on the cusp of the 31 All Blacks who will be asked to try to win the tour­na­ment for the third suc­ces­sive time.

The cull will be ex­ten­sive as 55 play­ers wore the fa­mous jer­sey in 2017, which means more than a team and re­serves from that sea­son will be side­lined from the ac­tion in Ja­pan late next year.

Some fringe play­ers and their agents will be as­sess­ing their moves in the wake of Sopoaga’s exit strat­egy and whether it is best to nail down a sig­nif­i­cant deal be­fore the mar­ket be­comes sat­u­rated af­ter the next World Cup.

Oth­ers who will be mar­ginal choices for the tour­na­ment will ig­nore that con­cept in a bid to re­alise their rugby am­bi­tions.

Mean­while in Europe the in­ter­est will be just as fre­netic. Club coaches, scouts and in­vestors will be draw­ing up lists of po­si­tions they need to strengthen their ros­ters, which All Blacks might fit those cat­e­gories and find­ing out from their man­agers whether there is any in­ter­est.

Ju­lian Savea and Jerome Kaino are two se­nior All Blacks who were er­ratic choices for the side last sea­son and their days in the na­tional jer­sey ap­pear to be in the bal­ance while Seta Ta­mani­valu and Matt Duffie are other wings who will need a great deal of for­tune to be reg­u­lar choices.

While Savea is still young he has strug­gled to re­pro­duce the sting and ac­cu­racy in his game which the na­tional se­lec­tors are want­ing.

He also has a lot of com­pe­ti­tion on the wing while Kaino is also fac­ing chal­lenges and is soon to be 35 and is com­ing back from an in­jury which cur­tailed his last tour to Europe.

Fel­low blind­side Liam Squire has de­vel­oped the de­fen­sive side of his game while Vaea Fi­fita brings the at­tack­ing sav­agery which can be such a weapon from the bench.

Other loose for­wards Luke White­lock and Dil­lon Hunt snared caps on the last All Black trip but will bat­tle to get an­other look in if ev­ery­one is fit and could com­mand de­cent over­seas con­tracts from clubs want­ing work­horse con­trib­u­tors.

With Brodie Retallick, Sam White­lock, Scott Bar­rett and Patrick Tuipulotu lead­ing the lock­ing group, a Euro­pean club may get a bite from Luke Ro­mano or Do­minic Bird while there will be an over­flow of props and hookers too.

Jef­fery To’omaga-Allen, Tim Perry and Liam Colt­man are front row for­wards who will be in a mas­sive dog­fight for fur­ther na­tional recog­ni­tion.

The rise of Nepo Laulala and the re­turn from Achilles surgery for Owen Franks will so­lid­ify the tight­head prop stocks and the blaz­ing ar­rival of young hooker Asafo Au­mua has put the squeeze on his more se­nior ri­vals.

He will in­spire and in­ter­change with Dane Coles at the Hur­ri­canes in the sort of role­play which may be the norm in Ja­pan next year, while Codie Tay­lor, Nathan Har­ris, James Par­sons and Colt­man are in the chas­ing group.

De­ci­sions from the All Blacks se­lec­tors this year will send sig­nals, in­tended or oth­er­wise, about their think­ing for the World Cup year.

Open­side will be one of those ar­eas of in­trigue with Sam Cane the se­nior man and Matt Todd and Ardie Savea used as his backup with­out, it ap­peared, to­tal con­vic­tion from the panel.

That role may con­tinue to evolve or an­other flier like Blake Gib­son or per­haps the ex­plo­sive tal­ents of Akira Ioane will de­mand more in­vest­ment.

Those points of dif­fer­ence will swirl through con­cepts for the All Blacks se­lec­tors while all that tal­ent will be hang­ing fruit for Euro­pean in­vestors.

Most will cling to the vine but some will be happy to ripen in for­eign cli­mates.

16

CASHED IN Lima Sopoaga has de­cided a $1m pay packet at Wasps is a bet­ter ca­reer move than stay­ing in New Zealand for the next World Cup.

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