A New Zealand great, as they say in rugby circles, thinks that the New Zealand Rugby Union should make the big decision and cut South Africa off from Super rugby by dropping the competition and instead build a new comp with Australia and Asia – linking in with Japan, and other moneyed markets.
Andrew Mehrtens, or Mehrts, as they quaintly say in rugby circles, is of the view that the Safaas, lovely blokes as they are, need dropping if NZ Rugby is to survive for the long haul. It’s the time zone, and the whinging by the Saffas that’s getting to him, and he thinks that with this bold move, the NZ union can drop their ‘no overseas’ rule, and allow their test players to play offshore, but still pick them. Oh and he thinks the Argies should look north and join up with the US, etc.
But, and there’s always a but, the offshore players can only go to Japan or other Asian teams. He wants the NZRU to actively advocate that Kiwis shouldn’t go to play in England, France or even Ireland, if they want to be picked for the test team.
So, if Mehrts dream was to come true, and the vast flow of Kiwis to our shores were to suddenly stop, would the European game keel over? Would the streets be awash with rugby fans, ashen-faced, stumbling blindly, mumbling – I can’t believe they’ve gone, what are we gonna do now?’
In Ireland, out of the 250-odd senior and academy squad players, there are a dozen or so NZ-born players who could suddenly be no more and not be replaced.
In Connacht, 34-year old, Tom McCartney, married to an Irish-passport holding wife, might be having a rejuvenation this season, but there ain’t much more in those legs. And there’s a couple of younger Irish fellas coming up behind him getting more game time.
Next to him on the dressing-room bench is Samoan-heritage, Kiwi-born, Bundee Aki, who’s had his best shot at a RWC, and turning 30 next year is unlikely to see another one. The Connacht midfield would definitely be a lot less without him.
Across the shed is the 26 year old, Dom Robertson-McCoy, with an Irish grandparent, and here since 2016. He can play both sides of the scrum but is on a rolling contract, so they’re obviously not that sure.
Their captain, 28-year old, Jarrad Butler, was born Kiwi, but moved to Oz at 13, played Oz Schools and U20s, so we won’t count him, but he’d be a big miss if he left.
Down Munster way, Rhys Marshall 27, is living in the shadow of Niall Scannell, but now that’s he’s residency qualified, he might have hope that Andy Farrell might consider him. Kevin O’Byrne is his only other rival, so Munster would miss him.
Tyler Bleyendaal is the only other Kiwi on their books, and at 29, residency qualified two years ago, time is not on his side. With Carbery out again, he’s a steady hand on the tiller that they’d like to keep him to the end of his contract in 2021.
Over at Leinster, Jamison Gibson-Park, has been toiling away behind first pick, Luke McGrath, and even though he residency qualified during the summer, he didn’t make Joe’s RWC list. Leinster already gave up Nick McCarthy to Munster, and they’ve another couple of young 9s in the pot, so JGP may be feeling the heat. His contract is up for review this June, so wait and see.
Michael Bent, turning 34 this season, hasn’t got a lot left, and with his Irish grandparent got a couple of test caps. He wants it to last as long as possible, but he knows there are younger Irish props waiting to take his spot.
Then there’s James Lowe, 27, who can residency qualify in Nov 2020, if he renews a further contract with the province during this season. He’d leave a hole that Cullen would find difficult to fill.
Joe Tomane, 29, was also born in NZ, but like Butler, moved to Oz when he was 3. He also got capped for the Wallabies so he’s not in the frame.
And up in Ulster, Sean Reidy, 30, also got a couple of test caps through his Irish grandparents, but that was it, so he’s staying put.
Ulster also took on 28 year old, Matt Faddes, from the Highlanders this season, but by a few accounts, isn’t making much a name for himself – yet.
There’s been some sterling oversea NZ players over the last decade or two, just imagine if your club had to do without them or their successors, if they all headed east instead of north.
Who would your team miss right now?