Yesterday Alby Mathewson announced he was quitting New Zealand Rugby, and heading to the Western Force on a one year contract.
According to the former All Black halfback, the biggest contributing factor was that he was seeing less and less game time at the Blues (well, when Piri Weepu actually turned up). Provided Weepu doesn’t follow him to Perth it’s a good career choice, but in making that choice, Mathewson’s albeit very slim chances of an All Black recall are over.
Let’s be fair. After the performances of Smith, Kerr-Barlow and Perenara – and the need to have Weepu in the squad for some experience – meant that Mathewson was rated, at best, fifth in line for the #9 jersey (sixth if you include Andy Ellis, but most people don’t). The chances of the name Alby Mathewson being read out for the squad to travel to Argentina were about as good as Ben Fouhy being awarded an Olympic Fair Play award.
But the fact that he is no longer even eligible to represent his country because he is not playing in New Zealand is downright silly.
We all know the reasons given as to why that is – select one All Black plying their trade in an overseas competition and the floodgates would open. This is a perfectly legitimate reason. New Zealand’s economy simply cannot compete with the likes of the UK, France or Japan, and the local competition would be decimated within a few years.
However, Super Rugby is no overseas competition – it is the tournament from which the next All Black squad will be selected. All players in that particular platform are on show every weekend to selectors, including those that will ultimately be selected in the AB squad, so to discount any one player simply because they are living in Perth rather than Eketahuna seems ludicrous.
The time is right to open up All Black eligibility to any New Zealander playing in the Super Rugby tournament. But the NZRU set their precedent with Daniel Braid a couple of years back, despite his great form with the Reds, and stubbornly refuses to budge.
On D’Arcy Waldegrave’s Radio Sport show yesterday, Mathewson was asked whether he was going to Perth with the blessing of the NZRU. After what seemed like an eternity of umms and aahs, Mathewson basically settled for a “not really” kind of answer. OK, I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.
On the one hand, the NZRU are dictating where players will play should they wish to play for their country. That’s fair enough – that’s their right. Yet when the likes of Alby Mathewson decides to move on (partially because as late as last week he had received no communication from any of the NZRU’s alleged “franchises”), their collective bottom lips tremble.
That’s called having two bites of the cherry.