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.
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.
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.