Rugby

Brent Pope Sounds Alarm Bells For Future Of New Zealand Rugby

Brent Pope Sounds Alarm Bells For Future Of New Zealand Rugby

Brent Pope believes rugby in New Zealand has problems more numberable than those viewed on the pitch during last weekend's World Cup semi-final defeat to England.

"New Zealand are going to struggle in the next cycle," the native Kiwi said on The Brent Pope Rugby World Cup Show presented in association with Carry Out Ireland.

"Players now, once they get one or two All Blacks caps, they are off. They get offers from Europe, they get offers from Japan - which is going to open up as an even bigger market than was there before.

"Teams in France and around the world go through those players just bubbling under that All Black level. I know that because that's the type of player I was; you're bubbling under that level and you become ripe pickings for a team who can get you a little bit cheaper.

"You haven't made the All Blacks yet like James Lowe but you're playing good rugby for the Chiefs, the Highlanders, but then you're off to Japan for a few years; big money, great lifestyle.

"Like James Lowe said, you could hang around and maybe, maybe, get a couple of caps. Look at Lima Sopoaga and these up and coming young number tens they talked about a few years ago - they're gone! He was the next heir apparent to Beauden Barrett. Bang, he's gone.

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"The carrot isn't on the string for some of these players. They'll sit down and say, 'Here's the choice I make: either I go over and play for Northampton for £600,000 a year and set up my family for the rest of their lives or I stay behind on the off chance I get called up to the All Blacks for a couple of matches'.

"That's the dilemma they are faced with and you can tell what most of them are going to do: most of them are going to say, 'It's not a certainty that I'm in the All Blacks but it's a certainty a club is going to put a contract in front of me and I'm going to go'.

"New Zealand Rugby cannot give those players guarantees. They can only go to them like Steve Hansen did and tell them to 'Stick around, I've got you in mind for the World Cup'. A player's going to say, 'Well, that's four year's time, Steve, and I've got four years to make a living, so I'm off'."

Pope believes that the once well-populated All Black conveyor belt is looking sparse.

I'm looking for the next level of All Black greats and I'm struggling to see it at the moment.

Yes, New Zealand will welcome back a few players like Damien McKenzie next year and maybe Rieko Ioane gets his act together.

Sam Cane is not a Richie McCaw; Richie Mo'unga is not a Dan Carter; Beauden Barrett only has another year left in him, if that.

Hansen was somewhat hamstrung by his selections because when he looked at the front row, he started thinking, 'Well, where's are the world greats in scrummaging?'

We have Whitelock and Retallick but they can't go on forever and I don't see their natural replacements either.

Kieran Read's form hasn't been great for about two years, let's face it. Who is going to replace him? They are putting Ardie Savea in the number eight channel, playing him out of position.

Hevalso has worries beyond the quality of those pulling on the All Blacks jersey.

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"People are not going to matches any more," said Pope.

"You see those Crusaders matches and think they are fantastic but you only see a sprinkling of people.

"New Zealand rugby will survive but it's because you don't see Australian rugby making repairs in the next couple of years. They are struggling with players going off to rugby league, with numbers going to games. South Africa might be the strongest of those three nations for the next couple of years.

"The emerging nations, like Japan, when they get a league going, that's going to hurt New Zealand even more because the money will follow. Japan will get excited - they have a right to given the performance of their team at the World Cup.

"Imagine what happens if South Africa decides to join the Six Nations or they join the Heineken Cup. Suddenly, New Zealand might be left without teams to play."

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PJ Browne
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