x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Steve Hansen not happy about absent New Zealand rugby players

Players who put money ahead of an All Blacks jersey lack “mental fortitude”, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said ahead of naming a 35-man All Blacks training squad this week.

Corey Flynn, right, who just signed with a French club, could fill the void at hooker for the All Blacks. Phil Walter / Getty Images
Corey Flynn, right, who just signed with a French club, could fill the void at hooker for the All Blacks. Phil Walter / Getty Images

A year from the World Cup, defending champions New Zealand face a depleted talent pool, as several players opt for lucrative overseas contracts.

Although there is an overflow of quality among the loose forwards and outside backs, in other areas there are looming shortages – particularly at hooker, where there is a struggle to find three of international standard for next month’s tour by England.

History has shown opportunities can always arise for fringe players, especially in the last World Cup, when the All Blacks hero was an out-of-condition, and initially out-of-contention, Stephen Donald.

Donald was recalled from holiday and thrust into the final after the three frontline fly-halves were injured.

In a fairy-tale ending, he saved rugby-obsessed New Zealand from deep despair when he kicked the winning penalty in an 8-7 victory over France.

But rather than hoping for injuries to again open a pathway to Test selection, a growing number of players are heading offshore, much to the annoyance of coach Steve Hansen.

Players who put money ahead of an All Blacks jersey lack “mental fortitude”, he said ahead of naming a 35-man All Blacks training squad this week.

“It is frustrating and it is disappointing. Players here have a dream of playing for the All Blacks and then they suddenly give it up when an easier option comes along,” he said.

“It’s not their dream, but they decide to go for it, and I think we need players with a bit more mental fortitude.”

Former All Blacks Mils Muliaina, Zac Guildford, Jarrad Hoeata and Corey Flynn, along with leading Super Rugby players Andre Taylor, Bundee Aki, Jackson Willison, Alipati Leuia, Tyler Bleyendaal, Chris Noakes, Jack Lam and Tom McCartney, have confirmed they are heading overseas this year.

There has also been speculation that former All Blacks Tanerau Latimer, Andy Ellis and Ben Tameifuna will join them.

Generally, New Zealanders are only picked for the All Blacks if plying their club trade in their homeland.

Hansen tempered the naming of his squad by saying there were players missing whom the All Blacks management were well aware of, in an apparent nod to World Cup veterans Flynn and Ellis.

If first-choice scrum-half Aaron Smith was injured, “We might have to bring someone senior back in,” Hansen said yesterday, noting the lack of experience with the other two training-squad members, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and TJ Perenara.

The dearth of experienced hookers also means the 15-Test Flynn remains on the All Blacks short-term radar despite signing with French club Toulouse.

Rising hookers Nathan Harris and Liam Coltman are in the training squad alongside established rakes Dane Coles and the increasingly injury-prone Keven Mealamu, 35.

But selector and former All Black Grant Fox said the selection panel was “not absolutely convinced” Harris and Coltman were ready for Test rugby, which meant Flynn remained an option if required to play against England.

sports@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE