All Blacks coach Scott Robertson has hit the ground running and is calling for an open-minded approach to eligibility rules for overseas-based players, emphasising the need to adapt to the rapidly changing rugby landscape.
Robertson gathered with the All Blacks for a two-day camp in Auckland, marking the first meeting of his new management team and players.
Twenty-two players attended the camp, but notable absentees included those who ventured overseas after the World Cup. Echoing Robertson’s sentiments was All Blacks captain Sam Cane, who previously suggested reconsidering the policy of not selecting overseas-based players, but New Zealand Rugby insisted on maintaining the current rules.
Key among the All Blacks stars currently playing abroad is backrow Ardie Savea who opted to play in Japan’s League One, which has attracted several of the world’s biggest names with lucrative salaries and a more condensed rugby calendar.
Robertson expressed openness to the idea of selecting players based overseas, urging stakeholders to keep an open mind given the rapidly evolving nature of the sport. He presented his perspective to the board, Super Rugby CEOs, and provincial unions, emphasising the importance of staying ahead of the game in terms of player decisions and contracts.
“I presented to the board, the CEOs of Super Rugby, the PUs (provincial unions).. I explained about keeping an open mind in that space, that’s what I’ve asked for.
“Keep an open mind where the game is at the moment, it’s moving quite quickly, as we know.
“There is a lot of on and off field, players and decisions and contracting, and I want to be a step ahead of that. Decipher that.”
Regarding the All Blacks’ captaincy, Robertson revealed that a captain would not be named until the team’s first camp following the Super Rugby season. The All Blacks are set to open their season against England in July.
The theme of the camp centred on banishing the demons of the heartbreaking 2023 Rugby World Cup final loss to the Springboks. Players chose not to discuss the defeat, adopting a “new year, fresh start” approach. Robertson acknowledged the loss of experience post-World Cup but expressed excitement about emerging young talents and potential replacements for key players.
Addressing the balance between form and experience in team selection, Robertson emphasised the need for a combination of both, highlighting the permanence of class while recognising the importance of consistent performance.
As the team prepares for the 2024 campaign, Robertson remains coy about naming the captain, indicating that the decision will be revealed when the squad is announced.
“I’ll name the captain as we come into the series, when we name the squad. I’ve got to get in front of a few people, have conversations, catch a few eyes, get on the odd knee and have some chats.”
To manage player workloads during the Super Rugby season, Robertson introduced individual load management, recognising that a blanket rest rule may not suit every player. Collaboration with Super Rugby coaches aims to tailor workload management to individual needs, considering factors like prior injuries.
“We looked around the individual manager minutes and load management. We’ve changed the model and are going to do it individual load management for the athlete. We found five six games sometimes wasn’t enough for players.”
In shaping the All Blacks’ future, Robertson stressed the importance of adapting to change, nurturing emerging talents, and maintaining a balance between tradition and innovation.