Minimal offshore interests for All Blacks
July 22, 2009
Newcastle's Carl Hayman is thought to be one of the overseas-based Kiwis the All Blacks management are tracking © Getty Images
All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith has revealed that just two overseas-based New Zealanders are on the selectors' radar as preparations for the 2011 Rugby World Cup rumble into life.
Coach Graham Henry has signalled that planning for New Zealand's assault on the sport's biggest prize, that will be played out on home soil, will begin when the current Tri-Nations series ends. The debate as to who will make the final 30-man squad is set to intensify over the coming months but Smith has indicated that nearly all offshore-based players are out of the equation.
Of the 86 players to have featured in tests during the Henry regime, 35 now ply their trade at overseas clubs. However, Smith said only "a couple in the UK" were in line to feature.
While Smith refsued to confirm their identity it is obvious that Newcastle's tighthead prop and captain Carl Hayman will be a target, the 29-year-old having departed to England following the failed 2007 tournament.
The identity of the other may be Harlequins fly-half Nick Evans, 28, who was frustrated at his lack of opportunity behind Daniel Carter so sought greener pastures last year. Other possibilities on the hit list are Munster winger and New Zealand's most prolific Test tryscorer Doug Howlett, Leicester centre Aaron Mauger or Ospreys flanker Jerry Collins.
Smith said the ball is now in the court of the players concerned. They must return to New Zealand next year to become eligible.
"Anyone that wants to have a crack at the World Cup has to play in the Air NZ Cup and Super 14 and play their way back into the All Blacks," he said. "Of course there is nothing guaranteed. While guys have been overseas, there has been a lot of development and a lot of great young players that have won world championships at age-group level.
"There is going to be some real heat on over the next couple of years and that is great."
Luke McAlister is one prominent player to return from overseas this year and was fast-tracked straight into the black jersey. Veteran test lock Chris Jack is on his way home to the Crusaders via Western Province in South Africa's domestic competition. Jack opened his Currie Cup stint with a try in the opening minute of their first game and was named man of the match.
"He has been a great All Black, he's not that old," Smith said of 30-year-old Jack. "We have got a lot of depth in many positions now and lock is one of them. So it will be a contest for that position for sure."
Smith visited numerous players on a visit to Europe in March, including former rugby league star Sonny Bill Williams, but most of the meetings were on a casual basis.
"Some of them will be finishing playing but you want them to start learning about coaching and being able to contribute to the country so there are all sorts of reasons why you stay in touch to make them feel part of New Zealand rugby."
The vast majority of the 2011 squad will come from the current group, with Smith happy the New Zealand Rugby Union had convinced key players to fend off the lure of overseas riches.
"We have got all our players signed up through to the World Cup and even past the World Cup as well. We have worked hard at that over the last 12-18 months probably and targeting who are the must-haves."