Craig Dowd
Players will become New Zealand's greatest export
Craig Dowd
April 15, 2015
Colin Slade makes a half-break © Getty Images
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"New Zealand is the producer of the seeds and the trees are further north."
 

New Zealand is not going to be able to avoid losing top players in the wake of Colin Slade and Charles Piutau's departure for the northern hemisphere. The reality is the money is going to get greater and the players are going to go earlier.

Players in the past have given five or six years' service to New Zealand Rugby and then gone with a really good CV to get some good money. Now, I think, players who build their CV early will go early because they want to earn the money for a longer period of time, rather than a good couple of years, to whack against their mortgage at the end of their career. Unfortunately, New Zealand is the producer of the seeds and the trees are further north.

Colin Slade's departure completed a bit of a bombshell for New Zealand Rugby but in reality it does happen every World Cup year; it has always seemed like a major problem at the time, for New Zealand, but if you go right back to 1986, when the Baby Blacks turned up, you find that New Zealand does tend to get through these moments.

That said, Slade's departure has emptied the cupboards of first-fives in Canterbury. He's just one of a number of fly-halves who have gone, or will go, and the Crusaders, and Canterbury, more than anyone are going to be worried about their current stocks. Richard Mo'unga is the last one left, and he is someone who is obviously a very good player for the future. But the list of those they have lost includes Tyler Bleyendaal and Tom Taylor, while they will also lose Dan Carter and Slade; that's a fairly big hit. It is unusual for the Crusaders because they've always been strong at covering their gaps, so it will be a test for them and we will see what comes out from Canterbury in the next couple of years.

Slade will be a loss to New Zealand, there is no doubt about that. He's a utility player and going into the Rugby World Cup, even still, he is a pretty important member of that squad.

Colin Slade is likely to play a key role in the All Blacks' Royal World Cup squad © Getty Images
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From the All Blacks' point of view, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett become central to the plans. I know that Sir Gordon Tietjens put the invitation to Cruden to be available for the Olympic Sevens, but you have to look at it through Cruden's eyes. Dan Carter will finally be gone in 2016 so he has to think about why he would give anyone else a chance to take the No.10 jersey for the All Blacks? I can see why he would want to hang onto the 10 jersey for the 15-a-side team, and he has positioned himself nicely there. I guess Barrett faces a similar question whether he goes to Sevens or does he stay in 15s and give Cruden a run for his money?

It is interesting times ahead in that regard.

The Blues' Ihaia West made a successful starting debut, Blues v Hurricanes, Super Rugby, Eden Park, Auckland, May 31, 2014
Ihaia West deserves better support at the Blues, Craig Dowd believes © Getty Images
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Looking at the next cabs off the rank, I think Lima Sopoaga comes into the picture. I've always thought he was a quality player, and he has done great things for the Highlanders this season. He's a different sort of player, but he's reliable, a great attacking 10, a good goal kicker and he's from the same era as Barrett so he is still a young man with time on his side. He's maturing nicely.

Damian McKenzie has been a revelation with the Chiefs this season, and he could be the bolter, while Ihaia West showed his worth for the Blues at the weekend. West has had two fantastic ITM Cup seasons, and he started this year okay in a Blues team that wasn't firing, only to be relegated to the bench when Dan Bowden was finally available.

That's a shame for West - and also for New Zealand.

When you look at the development of Barrett and Cruden, they were thrust out there and they grew and that is how they emerged. And I remember years ago Shane Howarth was sat down by Graham Henry, who told him he was going to give him eight games on the trot regardless of how he played and at the end of they would see how he had done. Shane went from strength to strength to strength; he made mistakes along the way but he just got better and better.

Only by playing at that level do you actually get better. Putting a guy on the bench and saying "he's got a lot to learn" means you don't really have faith in the guy.

Otere Black from the Manawatu is another player I like, and Marty Banks could be another bolter. I wonder if the Blues had gone looking for Banks just how much we would be talking about him because certainly every time he takes the field there is a bit of class about him.

Matt McGahan is another one who needs a big season in the ITM Cup, and I guess at the end of this campaign everyone is going to sit down when they do their recruitment and work out where they want to go. And recruitment is an important part of coaching.

Sam Whitelock and the Crusaders needed things to go their way © Getty Images
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Highlanders played well, Crusaders just needed bounce of the ball

So far as Super Rugby goes, you have to say the Highlanders played well against the Crusaders. Todd Blackadder will suffer all the usual criticism, but the Crusaders were well in that game and it was a game where they just needed the bounce of the ball or something to go their way and they were back in it. But the Highlanders, with their doggy nature and the way they go about things with the X Factor of Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa, who can spark anything from nothing, came through. Smith's try just punished the Crusaders, which was traditionally what the Red-and-Black have always done to the opposition.

And the Blues finally had a bit of luck go their way. They benefited from a last-minute penalty kick that missed, but that's rugby and they have been on the receiving end often enough themselves this year.

The rest of the season is all about pride for the Blues now; they mightn't win, but they need to go out with heart and play with pride. That's what the fans want to see. If they can roll their sleeves up and get stuck in, and show the fight is still there, then the support will still be there.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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