Recent news that several current All Blacks will leave New Zealand rugby for the Northern Hemisphere after the 2015 Rugby World Cup might have come as a shock to some fans and media, but these early announcements may not have been as unforseen by Steve Hansen and his experienced coaching group.
What might have been surprising is the early timing of many announcements though, with a Rugby World Cup to play for in September and a whole Super Rugby season only weeks away, one could say that players making commitments offshore now might have played their hands too early. By announcing a career move early, might have Jeremy Thrush and Ben Franks suggested to the selectors that their minds are not firmly on retaining the Webb Ellis Cup?
All Blacks Succession Planning in Place
As you might suspect, with these early calls, the players have prematurely placed the onus on the ‘next in line’ to stand-up and deliver that Super Rugby performance that says to Steve Hansen and company, hey, pick me now! It is this interesting new concept of such far reaching announcements that will bewilder many rugby fans, because of the fact that you are saying to us now that it in 9 to 10 months, I’ll be working for somebody else – send me a Goodbye card now. “Thanks for helping me establish my profile, and I’ll collect now on that investment with another employer. Cheers”
In a way, calls for them to be now overlooked for World Cup selection might be the natural viewpoint, but it’s more than likely not what the All Blacks will in fact do. They have shown loyalty to others who were going to leave NZ rugby – Sonny Bill Williams is a case in point, as he was leaving for the Bulldogs in 2013 and yet was still selected for the Rugby Championship. Admittedly he performed well to justify that call; as is the sporting enigma that is SBW, so it is not uncommon for this coaching panel to stick with a player who indicates that he’ll not be available for future team selection after a particular date.
Dan Carter was given the spotlight to call his departure and while from the outside any Coach would need to analyse the benefits of sticking with a Carter who already has one foot in the sands of the French Riviera.
Not with this All Blacks Coach. A value is placed on selecting that a form player right up to the very last minute and this trend may be a guide that the selectors stick with in 2015. But what trend does that create for other players?
Victor Vito might likely choose a move to a Japanese or a European club to finish out his illustrious career, because he’ll more than likely retain a place in the full squad based on his form before being convalest off the last Northern Tour.
For me, the worst case scenario, Sam Cane or emerging stars like Patrick Tuipulotu take the same road and sign contracts: all post RWC 2015 of course. The call of the Yen or Euro is very strong – sometimes so strong that in the middle of an All Black player’s term, they choose to export their skills. Think of Nick Evans, Carl Hayman or even Hosea Gear or Chris Jack.
These men have set out markers for others to follow and with the ‘Henry Law’ well in place [no players outside of New Zealand competition will ever be named in an All Blacks side] for some to leave now, that move must be a huge risk.
But in stating that and highlighting the risk and loss to our rugby scene, we must also salute the call by Hansen and his experienced coaching group to bring in players to cover this exact scenario – succession planning you might call it. This policy can create depth, to introduce new players and retain established leaders within the core group, and importantly prepare contingency plans for a loss of one, two, or maybe a few.
If, as an example, Ryan Crotty chose to join the Premiership tomorrow and then Conrad Smith decided to retire [yes, it could happen] the All Blacks have already put in place future options like Malakai Fekiatoa, Ben Smith and possibly have wider-training squad players like Trent Renata or Charlie Ngatai to include in their places in 2016.
Utilizing good human resource policy, the All Blacks can react to player’s movements like those announced, and those that will ultimately occur through the year – think Frank Halai and the as-yet-unconfirmed Ma’a Nonu, and in respect to Hansen being retained until 2017, what better head coach might be best prepared for the future loses within this group.
He has put in place systems and the management in place to counter such losses, so keeping Steve was also a look towards these expected ‘player movements’ by NZRU as much as Hansen by proxy.
Even though he didn’t expect so many announcements this early, Hansen will not be reaching for the ‘Sorry you’re leaving cards’ just now and in ‘rugby reality’ we must all look at it from New Zealand Rugby’s point-of-view.
If they have prepared for eventual player movements, utilize them best before their pre-planned departure and have instituted good succession planning, then it should not interrupt the All Blacks from their main goal of 2015 – retention of the Rugby World Cup.
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