Savea tentatively backs All Blacks selection for offshore players


World Rugby Player of the Year Ardie Savea has tentatively endorsed a suggested policy change which would allow players based outside New Zealand to be considered for All Blacks selection.

Ardie Savea in the Rugby World Cup 2023 final. (Source: Photosport)

New Zealand has steadfastly opposed such a policy while several of its leading rivals including South Africa have moved in that direction, allowing overseas-based players to be chosen for national teams.

New Zealand’s reservations are that such a policy would lead to an exodus of incumbent All Blacks and younger players who could receive higher salaries overseas than at home which would decimate domestic competitions.

Savea is currently playing in Japan on a short term basis with the Kobelco Kobe Steelers. He will return to New Zealand later this year for a mid-year test series England and the latter stages of the Super Rugby season.

In an interview from Kobe, Savea was asked whether he supported a change in policy to allow the All Blacks to select overseas-based players. While he didn’t directly call for a policy change, he suggested the more global nature of rugby might prompt a reassessment.

“Times are changing,” he said. “Things are moving fast. What worked five, 10, 15 years ago maybe can’t work now.

“We’ve just got to be innovative and smart around what we’re doing.

Savea pointed to South Africa as an example of a country that allows its players to retain eligibility for the national team whilst playing overseas.

“The country that’s proven that it works, that it helps, is South Africa,” Savea said. “The majority of their team’s playing (overseas) and they come together and win the World Cup.

“I don’t think it’s going to change drastically but I just think that something needs to evolve and grow.”

Savea said New Zealand should be careful to avoid insularity which could cause it to fall behind the rest of the world. With the withdrawal of South Africa from Super Rugby, New Zealand players can only test themselves outside internationals against players from Australia and the Pacific Islands.

He said playing in Japan allowed him to test himself against a wider range of players and a broader range of playing styles.

“It’s scary how much the world’s evolving and the game’s evolving in different countries,” Savea said.

“I think that’s the best thing about being out of New Zealand. I’m playing against guys from South Africa, Pacific Island boys that are from Tonga and Samoa, the Japanese brothers, Aussie brothers.

“I’m playing against a different variety of players, different styles which has been refreshing and awesome where in New Zealand you’re just playing against the New Zealand teams and Aussie teams,” he added.

Another argument against picking players based offshore is that overseas competitions are not of the same quality as those from which the All Blacks traditionally have been picked. Savea said it was up to each player to ensure they maintained their best form.

“You could easily come here (Japan) and drop your standards and just go about footy,” he said. “But it’s all up to the individual, whether they want to be the best or challenge themselves to be the best.

“I know for myself it doesn’t matter where I play. Hopefully I am growing and seeking feedback from coaches to better my game and be better. The rugby here in Japan is pretty up there. It’s bloody good footy.”

New All Blacks coach Scott Robertson has spoken briefly with Savea in Japan. Savea said the contact was “minimal” and Robertson had provided feedback on his game.

While he confirmed he will be available for the first test against England in July, Savea didn’t indulge speculation that he might be captain.

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