Craig Dowd
Legends want always to leave on their terms
Craig Dowd
May 6, 2015
Carrl Hayman showed at Twickenham how players lift for their final game © Getty Images

When you see Carl Hayman and Ali Williams lifting the European Rugby Champions Cup Cup they have just won for Toulon, for the third time in Hayman's case, you know it meant a lot to them. They went out on a high. Their careers have been fantastic. And that reminded me that when you go out and play the last game of rugby you are ever going to play, for whatever cause or whatever team, you are not going to leave anything on the pitch. Seeing them go out that way just reminded me: don't worry about the World Cup. The curtain will come down on the career of a number of players at the World Cup, but they will want to leave on their terms.

Don't worry about Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and their form at this stage of the campaign: come that last game of the year - which New Zealanders hope will be the Rugby World Cup final, and it has to be said there are a lot of factors in and around that - they are not going to leave anything on the pitch if they do get to the final. It gives me a little confidence they will be ready should they get there. It is worth noting that McCaw and Carter are playing their last game in Christchurch for the Crusaders this weekend; it will be the end of an era.

Expect at full house as Dan Carter and Richie McCaw play for the last time in red and black at AMI Stadium © Getty Images

Meanwhile, look at the history of the Crusaders and the Blues, and they boast 50-plus years of highly competitive play between the regions - whether it be Auckland or Canterbury or their Super Rugby sides. We're talking about two powerhouses of New Zealand rugby. But look where they sit on the Super Rugby points table this year and you have to ask, 'What is going on?'.

The whole contract model New Zealand Rugby has put in place isn't working for them. If you look at the Highlanders, the Hurricanes and the Chiefs - who are all going really, really well - they're selecting from all over New Zealand. Of the two big unions, who pour a lot of money into the development of players, you have to ask yourself, 'Why bother?'.

At franchise level, why have a high-performance unit for developing players? That should be done at ITM Cup level and you just pick the best player from around the country. That's the whole idea of the franchise model. I'm sure the Highlanders have got a high-performance model but at the end of the day if they want a player they will go and get him no matter where he is in New Zealand - or the world for that matter. Maybe we should stop pouring money into high performance in franchises and concentrate on putting that money back into ITM Cup.

Hurricanes 29-23 Crusaders (Australia only)

The other thing that really stood out for me at the weekend was Beauden Barrett. He looks like he's got wings on his heels the way he runs and the pace he is able to generate. He's lightning quick, and it's not just the speed off the mark that all first-fives need; he can sustain it over the length of the field.

His play reinforced Steve Hansen's decision on the end-of-year tour to give him the starting role, which has him as the incumbent All Blacks No.10. It's all there in front of him. He outplayed the Crusaders' Colin Slade and Dan Carter. He's obviously operating in a backline that is on fire at the moment. He's playing with a lot of confidence and he seems to have moved up a gear, and I like what I see. The injury that has enforced a four-week break will be a good thing for New Zealand, although not so good for the Canes.

Highlanders 48-15 Sharks (Australia only)

I feel much the same about Lima Sopoaga, and New Zealand have got two very exciting No.10s coming through. If you look at teams that win Super Rugby titles, it is the team that usually has the best 10. And with that in mind it is no surprise why the Highlanders and the Hurricanes are going so well.

The Highlanders are playing a game that so suits their squad. Some of the players have really stood up: Elliott Dixon, Josh Hohneck and the like have played very well. It just goes to show: give a man an opportunity. You can sit in the wider training group for some time, but when you finally get a chance and get out on the park you really take it; I'm interested to see how much they continue to develop at that level.

I suppose there is something to be said about how we worry just how much talent we have in New Zealand, but players get better if you put them in that environment for long enough.

Blues 41-24 Force (Australia only)

And speaking of talent, you have to say that Akira Ioane demonstrated the quality of emerging talent with his game for the Blues. He's good. Now that Jerome Kaino is out for the rest of the season, he will probably start the remaining games for the Blues, or at least those when he is not involved with New Zealand at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship.

Also watching the Blues-Force match, it was interesting to see Steven Luatua, everyone's favourite son, sitting on the bench at the start of the game. When he got on, replacing Kaino early in the match, he went nuts and played a great game. There is just so much talent at No.6 and No.8 that the Blues do have, and the next generation coming through is great to watch.

The discussion about Tabai Matson joining the Blues next year is just a lot of noise. If the Blues board entertain that option for one moment, it will show why that franchise is in trouble. Matson currently is an assistant coach, not a head coach, of a team that is not top of the table either. There are other coaches who deserve to be able to push their case forward as well.

There are people like Kieran Keane, Peter Russell, Tana Umaga or Tony Brown - there are names out there, and there has to be a transparent process if you are going to appoint a new coach. You don't bring one in who you have shoulder-tapped. That's nothing against Matson but there is a process that should be gone through. If nothing else, the process might throw up someone who hadn't been thought about.

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