New Zealand will not ease eligibility rules

New Zealand Rugby chiefs said Thursday they had no plans to emulate Australia and relax eligibility rules so overseas-based players can represent the All Blacks.

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) announced the move on Wednesday in response to a host of top players taking up lucrative club contracts after this year’s September-October World Cup in England.

Defending world champions New Zealand face a similar post-tournament exodus, with at least 10 All Blacks heading offshore, including Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Colin Slade.

But New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Steve Tew said his organisation still believed that the only players allowed to pull on the hallowed All Black jersey should be based in New Zealand.

“The core policy is ‘if you’re not here, you don’t play for us’ and we think that’s been a very important part of our player-retention strategy,” he told Radio Sport.

“There’s no immediate thought of changing that.”

Tew said NZR had showed flexibility in contract negotiations so top players could have a stint playing overseas before returning to New Zealand and resuming All Black duties.

In recent years, New Zealand players have taken advantage of so-called “sabbatical” clauses in their contracts to either take up well-paid club contracts or have a break from the game to freshen up.

Serial code hopper Sonny Bill Williams even had provisions built into his contract at one point allowing him to participate in professional boxing matches.

ARU chief Bill Pulver said when announcing the move that it “recognises the changing dynamics of a global rugby market for professional players”.

Tew acknowledged the player market was extremely competitive at the moment and said New Zealand could not categorically rule out changing eligibility criteria in the future.

“We’re constantly reviewing what we’re doing and if circumstances changed then we’d be foolish not to think about it,” he said.

“But right now, our policy’s our policy and that’s the end of it.”


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