Every team who has qualified for the World Rugby tournament in Japan, will have an RWC2019 strategy. It is a focus point, even while 2018 fixtures are in sight. But with this latest offshore signing, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen must re-think that Rugby World Cup (RWC) strategy.
Lima Sopoaga, for whatever personal reasons, will end his time with New Zealand(NZR) rugby after the 2018 Mitre 10 Cup season. This will see him sever ties with the Highlanders–where he won the 2015 Super Rugby title–and with Southland Rugby.
That action adds Sopoaga’s name to an ever growing list, of NZ and South African players that choose European rugby over the local competition. Choosing to secure for themselves a lucrative contract; Sopoaga will reportedly earn over £1.5 million in a three year deal with Wasps.
— Wasps Rugby News (@WaspsRugbyNews) January 10, 2018
So why does this affect Steve Hansen’s plans? Because Sopoaga is a first-pick number 10. He is the next best, beside Beauden Barrett. As good as at times, and would have been high on the list for any proposed RWC2019 strategy. And Hansen must now correct that–both in the long term, and short term.
Latest Signing Requires Hansen to Re-Think His RWC2019 Strategy
In the long term planning, Sopoaga has been invested in. He is a 16 test All Black, debuting in 2015 and played his part in many famous wins. Traveling on the end of year tour, he would have been in the group of first-fives who are available to select from.
Was. And that news was “disappointing” to Hansen. In the public media release, Hansen is quoted as saying that NZR give Sopoaga all their blessings. “When he leaves, he and his young family will go with our best wishes.
“Our job now will be to develop the next player to take his place.”
Internally, his call has just ‘put a spanner in the works’. Hardly perfect, but it just means that Hansen will need to canvas other names to soon identify those players whom NZR can next invest in. By June, when the French side visit, Hansen will have already seen who he will need to work with, before the year is out.
By the November Internationals, a new player has to be given the exact role Sopoaga played (mind you, the Highlanders number 10 could still play a part in mid year plans, but not by August). And all this, is above the existing planning that Hansen and Ian Foster had prepared already.
Sopaga adds his name to Offshore Signings Register
Aware as he maybe, in regards to how this decision has corrupted some of the All Blacks planning, Sopoaga adds his name to a long list. Tom Taylor, Colin Slade, Simon Hickey and Aaron Cruden. These are men who could well be pooled as ‘next in line’ but are now identified as lost.
Not lost because the All Blacks discarded them–even Taylor started a test match, which proved his abilities–but every man pursued an offshore contract. And the option has continually placed pressure on the coaching group to make new plans. The RWC2019 strategy must now become ‘version 2’.
By the time that the All Blacks play Japan on November 3, that version will be ‘in play’. The match was scheduled as a trial of the Tokyo venue and team logistics. But crucially, it will now test the stocks of first-fives.
Barrett may in fact not be selected, so that any two or three others can be taken through their paces, because ling in wait is one of the biggest short term challenges in many, many years.
Long Term Goal 2019 – Short Term Goals in 2018
Playing Japan obviously has benefits–but by the time Steve Hansen walks his men out onto Twickenham later that month, there must be no ambiguity. Even while the version 2 planning is being adapted, a different strategy has been made for November.
Eddie Jones and England (see above) lay in wait. And they will be aware that one crucial piece has just been removed from the All Blacks chess pieces. Like the Wallabies and Springboks too, it might be seen as a new weakness; to be exposed. That outcome will make an altered RWC2019 strategy as secondary, in a short term view.
So for Hansen, the target foremost to be ready for is November 10. Survive that assault, then regather their paperwork, and aim the sides planning at the opening Pool stages of the Japan Rugby World Cup.
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