Opinion: Why the All Blacks should adopt ‘Barrett Law’

New Zealand rugby should adopt its own version of 'Giteau Law', ala Barrett Law, in order for the All Blacks to remain a force in Test rugby.  While South Africa and Australia have benefited from a relaxation of their selection policies, New Zealand has remained firm that they will only select players based in the land of the long white cloud.  Credit: Alamy
New Zealand rugby should adopt its own version of 'Giteau Law', ala Barrett Law, in order for the All Blacks to remain a force in Test rugby. While South Africa and Australia have benefited from a relaxation of their selection policies, New Zealand has remained firm that they will only select players based in the land of the long white cloud. Credit: Alamy

New Zealand Rugby should adopt its own version of ‘Giteau Law’, ala Barrett Law, in order for the All Blacks to remain a force in Test rugby.

While South Africa and Australia have benefited from a relaxation of their selection policies, New Zealand has remained firm that they will only select players based in the land of the long white cloud.

That is until recently when reports surfaced claiming that Beauden Barrett requested to be eligible for the All Blacks while based abroad.

New Zealand’s approach

The playmaker was slammed once the report emerged, but the clarification from New Zealand Rugby after was even more intriguing.

Barrett explained to the Spinoff that NZ Rugby approached him with the idea.

“I was really disappointed by the implication that I’d tried to put myself above the rules, though. One of the first things that’s drummed into you in rugby is that nobody is bigger than the team, and I believe in that idea wholeheartedly,” Barrett said.

NZ Rugby backed up Barrett’s side of the story explaining that it was them that raised the idea with the Test centurion.

“In discussions with Beauden about his potential to remain in New Zealand beyond the World Cup, NZR management raised a possible option of him playing for the All Blacks in between participating in offshore competitions in one year of a much longer term. All parties were aware that further discussion and decision on this remained subject to NZR board decision.”

But while some members of NZ Rugby may be open to the idea, they are undoubtedly the rebels who aren’t changing the status quo anytime soon, as the board rejected the idea.

One overseas All Black

While sabbaticals in Japan are becoming an increasingly popular clause in contract extensions for top stars in recent years, just one player has represented the All Blacks while contracted to a Japanese club, Matt Todd.

Todd was the first overseas player to represent the All Blacks in 2018, coming off the bench in three November Tests after Sam Cane’s horrific neck injury against South Africa in the Rugby Championship.

While an injury to a then-in-form Cane gave Steve Hansen some leeway in the rigid selection policy, it is puzzling that the board is unwilling to budge for a generational talent who has spent the past decade serving the union with great aplomb.

Two World Cup trophies, over 100 Tests for the All Blacks, and nearly 200 pro games for Taranaki, Hurricanes and Blues doesn’t earn Barrett any dispensation?

Never mind that he feared he would be forced into retirement in 2022 after a bout of concussions, during a stage of his career where he can maximise his earnings.

Time for change

Times have changed, and the lure of the Black jersey cannot be the only reason that the country’s top talents remain.

Players are better informed now than they were ten years ago, even five years ago. They realise their shelf life as a professional rugby player is short, a Test career even more so.

Injuries aside, a dip in form, a change of coach or even a tweak in a game plan could change their standing as a Test regular to an outcast.

And there is no better example of that than Richie Mo’unga, who has signed a three-year deal with Japanese club Toshiba Brave Lupus.

Mo’unga has been in a battle with Barrett for the starting fly-half jersey ever since his debut in 2017, and being three years Barrett’s junior, post-2023 was his opportunity to make the jersey his own.

During a visit to Japan, where he was unveiled to the club’s supporters, Mo’unga had a clear message to New Zealand: Adapt or die.

“New Zealand are going to have to adapt a lot quicker. Otherwise, you’re going to see players leave a lot earlier and not be able to represent their country,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

“We’ve seen a number of New Zealanders coming over to Japan, more and more every year.

“If New Zealand don’t adapt to that sooner or later, I think you’ll see a drop in the standard of New Zealand rugby.”

Why change eligibility for Barrett?

The bureaucrats didn’t afford Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and other All Black legends the same luxury, so you might ask why it should be different for Barrett.

For most of Carter and McCaw’s careers, Super Rugby was arguably at its best in terms of competitiveness and was the pinnacle of club rugby and playing the competition was another lure to remain. That is not the case in 2022.

The South Africans leaving the tournament removed a competitive edge and a massive influx of cash, the most of the unions involved. Something the Salt Lake deal is yet to replace definitively.

Overseas-based players can improve the All Blacks

South Africa, Australia and, to some extent, Argentina provide New Zealand with a case study of the positive impact overseas players can have on the nation set-up.

The Wallabies are, without a doubt, better with Samu Kerevi than without him, and while his departure from the Reds was a blow for the side, it did make room the side for Hunter Paisami to break into, and he has taken his chance with both hands and earned Test starts.

Matt Giteau’s impact on the Wallabies in 2015 cannot be understated as they stormed to a World Cup Final.

As for South Africa, Vincent Koch was a Test level prop during his time at the Stormers, but his move to Saracens saw him develop into a world-class front rower.

Sticking with the Premiership club, the Springboks spoke of the advantage of having Schalk Brits and Koch in their team when they fronted up against England in the World Cup Final. While they tapped into the knowledge Rynhardt Elstadt had on Toulouse’s French players.

Faf de Klerk’s overall game improved immensely during his stint at Sale Sharks and made him a crucial cog in the side that won the World Cup and one of the best scrum-halves in the world.

How to implement ‘Barrett Law’?

New Zealand Rugby doesn’t need to open the floodgates and make any New Zealander plying their trade abroad eligible for the All Blacks.

Setting a mark of 60 Test caps and a six-year service to Super Rugby franchises seems fair enough, but setting a target would be a start.

A cap can then accompany those limitations on how many players abroad may be selected in a Test squad at any given time.

This provides the players who have served New Zealand rugby well the opportunity to maximise their earnings, still play Test rugby, and understand that they will be vying for an exclusive position in the squad.

Wales and Australia have benefitted from a similar system, and there is no reason why New Zealand can’t have the same success.

Charles Darwin wrote, ‘It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.’ The Test arena is an ever-changing environment, highlighted by the fact that New Zealand is heading into the 2023 Rugby World Cup and aren’t the clear favourites, as they have been in every tournament beforehand.

Time for change, and what better way to do that than by rewarding one of the greats game for his unwavering service to the Black jersey?

READ MORE: Richie Mo’unga warns players will leave New Zealand at a younger age

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