New Zealand rugby is facing a mass exodus of talent this summer, as numerous All Blacks make the tough decision to cut short their international careers and depart for Europe and the riches that await.
Ahead of the new Top 14, Pro12 and Aviva Premiership seasons, clubs across Europe eagerly await the likes of Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Malakai Fekitoa, James Lowe, and more, as they follow in the footsteps of previous pioneers from New Zealand, who sought to end their playing days with lucrative contracts.
Ma’a Nonu, Dan Carter, Doug Howlett and Tana Umaga all made the jump north following the conclusion of their international careers, leaving the famous All Black jersey to the conveyor of talent that awaited.
In recent seasons, none more so than the one just concluded, more and more current All Blacks have made the decision to leave while still in their prime. Despite the embarrassment of riches when it comes to new international prospects, this recent trend is beginning to sound alarm bells in New Zealand.
In addition to those no longer eligible to play for New Zealand, there is also another group who departed their home shores where they have gone on to represent foreign nations internationally.
Like a double-edged sword, New Zealand is watching some stars depart while other exports return as opponents.
Whether it be through naturalisation, residency or ancestral eligibility, foreign powers are reaping the fruits of New Zealand’s fertile rugby grounds.
New Zealand news outlet Stuff has been looking at those who now wear the colours of countries not of their birth and managed to pull together a full XV that is stacked with talent.
1. Mako Vunipola (England)
2. Dylan Hartley (England)
3. Uini Atonio (France)
4. Luke Thompson (Japan)
5. Will Skelton (Australia)
6. Teimana Harrison (England)
7. John Hardie (Scotland)
8. Michael Leitch (Japan)
9. Kahn Fotuali’i (Samoa)
10. Quade Cooper (Australia)
11. Denny Solomona (England)
12. Karmichael Hunt (Australia)
13. Ben Te’o (England)
14. Sean Maitland (Scotland)
15. Jared Payne (Ireland)
While this is, indeed, a pretty spectacular side and one that would certainly ask questions of many a nation, it must be asked just how many of these internationals would actually make the All Blacks grade?
With the notable, if not exhaustive, exception of Vunipola and Cooper, the honest reality is that the world champions are heavily covered in each position on the pitch and simply don’t need these fifteen men, despite their talents.
It must also be said that while New Zealand rugby watches its native sons depart, it is also welcoming with open arms considerable talents from the island nations to their north.
There has been a long worn path from the likes of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, as players embrace the dream of the black jersey.
With those channels still intact, it is fair to say that regardless of the talent lost to foreign powers, New Zealand is in no immediate risk of a shortage of talented options.