Blues coach Pat Lam admitted the player drain to the northern hemisphere is severely weakening New Zealand rugby.
Although it is only Round Two of the competition not one Kiwi side is in the top four, with injuries to 15 current All Blacks exacerbating the problem of players leaving. Lam acknowledged how tough it is without Troy Flavell, Nick Evans and Isa Nacewa, who left Auckland after last year’s Super 14.
“It certainly is a big problem,” said Lam. “There’s no doubt there’s huge talent in New Zealand rugby if you look at the schoolboys and the U20s – that will never change – but replacing that experience and diminishing depth are the problems.”
Lam, in his first year in charge of the Blues, believes as long as the players and coaches are learning from matches such as their 59-26 hiding from the Bulls, it will be worth it.
“For many guys it was their first time playing at altitude and we struggled. As coaches and players we’ll have to learn, and try our best to manage to get through it, and to build that experience up again. However, we don’t want another chunk leaving in a couple of years again,” he said.
Lam sees the only way this will change is when the southern hemisphere can challenge their northern rivals financially.
“You want to have the best competition to draw players here but we also need money as an incentive. Privatisation and joining the corporates certainly seems the best way – even though it’s not the greatest time in the current climate – but at least money will mean we can compete.”
Lam is pleased with the return of a trio of his more experienced players in Joe Rokocoko, Jerome Kaino and Taniela Moa – who were all on paternity leave last week.
“That experience, with two of them internationals, will be great for the team against the Stormers,” he said.
Rokocoko, who missed the opening two games, is philosophical about the player drain.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,’ said Rokocoko. “We have to develop these players to become greats such as those that they are replacing. You can’t only look at the negatives, and the sacrifice of one year’s learning will nurture these players.
“As a senior player, I have to step in and take more of a role in the team. It’s not only about talking, but about leading from the front,” he said.
Rokocoko is relishing the opportunity to start his first Super 14 encounter since 2007 after missing last year’s competition with a wrist injury.
“The Stormers have great wings and it will be good to get out there. I rate Tonderai Chavhanga as one of the two fastest wings in the world with Ngwenya from America, so you can’t give him space and I’ll have to close him down. On the otherside, they have a real powerhouse in Sireli Naqelevuki, so it’s two totally different prospects.”
By Grant Ball