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How Australia could start filling their Super Rugby sides today

How Australia could start filling their Super Rugby sides today

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As a born and bred Kiwi living in Australia, the arguments about New Zealanders playing in Australian Super Rugby teams has always perplexed me.

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New Zealand has lots of playing talent, some of which is bottle-necked behind the funnel that is the five Super Rugby teams.

Australia by contrast has a determination to fill five Super Rugby teams but hasn’t got the cattle to fill five paddocks. The obvious solution is to allow a free flow of players from the New Zealand provincial teams to Australian Super Rugby sides.

New Zealand gets more space for their players to develop against stiffer competition, Australia can get their sides competitive and winning, with Kiwis providing internal squad pressure to lift standards. Win/win, right?

But there seems to be some kind of roadblock. The issue that most often gets raised is ‘it’s because New Zealand Rugby won’t let them come! If they would select All Blacks from Aussie Super Rugby teams there would be all these great players shifting over the ditch!’.

I get these arguments and there’s definitely some impact from NZR’s position of not selecting overseas players, but I just don’t think that is the real issue.

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The real issue seems to be that people aren’t just doing it already?

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The reality of the situation is that there is absolutely nothing stopping Aussie teams from contracting Kiwi provincial players. Hell, it’s been done at least a couple of times reasonably recently, with the likes of Jackson Garden-Bachop at the Rebels and Wharenui Hawera at the Brumbies in the last few years.

It is hard to describe just how easy it is, recent COVID travel restrictions excluded, for a New Zealand provincial rugby player to play for an Aussie Super Rugby team.

They don’t need a work permit as, if they are a New Zealand citizen, they have automatic work rights in Australia. They don’t need a variation on the standard NZR provincial contract, which contains no specific requirements to not play for teams outside the New Zealand system.

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There’s no language barrier, there’s no challenging long-haul travel requirement, and very little culture clash. All a New Zealand provincial rugby player needs in an offer worth taking and a plane ticket.

Now while there’s no real barrier to contracting provincial-level players, if Australia wants to nab some All Blacks prospects that’s where things get tricky.

But why would Australia be wanting to target potential All Blacks? These are guys who could start week in week out for a Kiwi Super side and in an Aussie team they would likely command first-choice selection.

All that does is limit the opportunities for Australian players. Australia needs squad depth and internal competition, not marquee players.

The Waratahs should be chasing a fringe guy like lock James Tucker to bolster their squad and add depth, not go after Brodie Retallick, who sucks cash and stands in the way of even really talented youngsters!

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Brodie Retallick

(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

Also I hate to mention this but if these guys are still playing in the New Zealand provincial competition, there’s nothing stopping the All Blacks selecting them.

As I understand it a player needs to be contracted by NZR and playing in New Zealand. A provincial contract, with say the Tasman Mako, would meet both requirements. If someone knows better, let me know!

Kiwi coaches, including the All Blacks’ coaches, are going to get to see guys playing at the level of competition they need and they will make the steps necessary to get the players they want back to NZ.

All RA and the Super sides have to do is get sharper at targeting New Zealand provincial prospects and put the systems in place to make it attractive.

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Come up with a contracting model that reflects the reality of the situation, understanding that if a Kiwi player feels they are ready to push for All Blacks selection they are likely going to want to move back to NZ.

Year-on-year break clauses based on selection to a Kiwi Super Rugby side would probably take care of that, at some risk of impacting roster stability. Make sure these players have somewhere to stay, some flatmates in the squad and make the move as easy as possible.

Australia does not need NZR to provide them with some special treatment. Everything is already in place to let them use Kiwi provincial talent to bolster their Super Rugby playing stocks.

They just need the will and the effort to make it easy and worth it for those players to hop over the ditch.

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