Rugby Union: New Zealand angered by exodus of talent

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The Independent Online
WORLD RUGBY appears to possess more agendas than the average All Black has chest hairs. While Fran Cotton, Clive Woodward and other high-profile English figures continue to protest long and hard about the damaging flood of foreign imports heading towards a lucrative place in next season's Allied Dunbar Premiership, the New Zealanders are bleating at the tops of their voices about the amount of home-grown talent following the yellow brick road to Europe.

Zinzan Brooke and Frank Bunce, two vintage All Blacks, have already taken up new residence at Harlequins and Castres respectively. That in itself is of little concern to the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, who anticipated the moves. However, a fuss has broken out over the plans of three of the Super 12-winning Canterbury Crusaders.

Brooke, back in New Zealand on a scouting mission, confessed this week that Harlequins were interested in the services of Angus Gardiner, an English-qualified open-side flanker of considerable repute. Needless to say, Brooke's initiative has reduced his countrymen to a state of apoplexy.

Brive, the former Heineken Cup holders from France, have stirred the pot further by claiming the signatures of Tabai Matson, the centre, and Kevin Nepia, the highly rated loose-head prop. The latter would be an unusually grievous loss to the All Black set-up.

There may well be another outburst of anger if Lee Stensness, the Auckland back who remains a prominent figure in the plans of the All Black hierarchy, decides to accept one of several French offers. Polite reminders that the NZRFU have played an enthusiastic role in stripping bare the major rugby-playing islands of the Pacific - Fiji, Western Samoa and Tonga - are being given short shrift.

Meanwhile, Clive Woodward, the England coach, has reiterated fears about a foreign-dominated domestic Premiership: "Our brightest two outside- half talents, Jonny Wilkinson and Josh Lewsey, get next to no opportunities to play in their best positions in top-flight rugby," he said, leaving no one in any doubt that the issue would continue to fester well into the new English season.

Woodward's latest departure from rugby orthodoxy may also have far-reaching implications. The New Zealanders were not impressed by his withholding of team details before today's match in Dunedin and Rob Fisher, the NZRFU chairman, is asking the International Board to introduce legislation guaranteeing the naming of Test line-ups at least 48 hours before the kick-off. "It's not fair on the crowd," said Fisher, who insisted that World Cup agreements would prevent Woodward or anyone else pulling a similar stunt during next year's showpiece.

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