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ANALYSIS: NZ Rugby fired a flaming arrow into the hearts of naysayers when it announced Samisoni Taukei’aho was staying in New Zealand through to the 2027 World Cup.
While there was little pomp and ceremony when it announced on Tuesday that the 21-test All Blacks hooker would remain on its books, his re-signing was a significant win for NZ Rugby.
A press release issued on Tuesday morning revealed the broad details of the deal, and included quotes from Taukei’aho, NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson and Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan. There was nothing from incumbent All Blacks coach Ian Foster, who will be replaced by Scott Robertson in 2024.
Later in the day Taukei’aho, 25, spoke to media from the Chiefs’ training base in Hamilton.
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All the boxes were ticked, albeit in an understated manner. But not all announcements about players signing long-terms deals have been so low-key.
Think back to 2011 when NZ Rugby revealed star No 10 Dan Carter re-signed through to the 2015 World Cup, on a deal rumoured to be worth around $1 million a year.
NZ Rugby celebrated that announcement by booking a room at the upmarket Clearwater Resort on the outskirts of Christchurch, where Carter, then-CEO Steve Tew and high-profile manager Warren Alcock faced the cameras and answered journalists’ questions.
MARK TAYLOR / STUFF
Liam Messam is halfway through an eight-week camp as he prepares to fight former rugby league representative Justin Hodges in the Fight for Life – “‘a big man with a big right hand'”.
Given he was 29 years old and injuries were beginning to take their toll, the re-signing of Carter wasn’t without risk. History, however, now shows that the calculated gamble paid major dividends – albeit four years later than first hoped.
Although Carter failed to survive the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, a serious groin injury ahead of a pool game against Canada put paid to that, he guided the All Blacks to victory over the Wallabies in the World Cup final in London in 2015.
To lump Taukei’aho in the same category as Carter may seem unfair to both parties, especially given what the latter achieved during a 112-test career that spanned 13 seasons.
But it would also be an error to understate what Taukei’aho could add to future teams mentored by Robertson. A powerful scrummager, Taukei’aho provides exceptional go-forward as a ball carrier and, like many hookers, has perfected the art of scoring tries off lineout drives.
His signing came soon after NZ Rugby confirmed All Blacks props Ethan de Groot and Tyrel Lomax would stay in New Zealand through to 2026.
While words such as “exodus” are bandied about during the regular pre-World Cup clean-outs, as older players seek their fortunes offshore, NZ Rugby hasn’t been left exposed – even with about a dozen players likely to either retire or go overseas.
Robertson, who is contracted through to the 2027 World Cup in Australia, should still have a pool of hardened test players to pick from when he takes over the reins from Foster.
Taukei’aho, the first All Black to sign through to the next World Cup cycle, shapes as a worthy candidate to start building a forward pack around.
Robertson must also have to ponder who to have as his captain.
With current skipper Sam Cane contracted through to 2025, Robertson has the option of keeping the openside flanker on as the leader.
If Robertson elects to appoint someone else, the logical successor is likely to be lock Scott Barrett. Given Barrett is the Crusaders captain, and has worked closely alongside Robertson at the powerhouse franchise since 2020, he could be a major benefactor if the new coach has a desire to look for a fresh leader.
Test centurion Sam Whitelock, who was Robertson’s skipper at the Crusaders between 2017 and 2019, is expected to be out of the picture. Whitelock is tipped to retire from the game in New Zealand.
Robertson is also likely to be working closely with NZ Rugby to target key players post-World Cup.
With first five-eighths Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett having committed to clubs in Japan from 2024 (although Barrett may return before the next global tournament), Damian McKenzie is likely to head a list of players that NZ Rugby will want to ring-fence from wealthy clubs beyond New Zealand’s shores.
Stephen Perofeta, who like McKenzie can also play at first-five and fullback, is already contracted through to 2024.
The nucleus of Robertson’s forward pack is set to stay in New Zealand, although No 8 Ardie Savea won’t participate in Super Rugby Pacific for the Hurricanes next year because he will play a season in Japan.
The biggest loss, undoubtedly, is Mo’unga. For now, though, Robertson should be glad to have Taukei’aho on board.
ALL BLACKS SIGNED TO NZ RUGBY BEYOND 2023
Samisoni Taukei’aho (2027)
Ardie Savea (2025)
Sam Cane (2025)
Joe Moody (2024)
Patrick Tuipulotu (2025)
Ofa Tu’ungafasi (2024)
Tyrel Lomax (2026)
Ethan de Groot (2026)
David Havili (2025)
Scott Barrett (2025)
Jordie Barrett (2025)
Aidan Ross (2025)
Tupou Vaa’i (2025)
Dalton Papali’i (2024)
Hoskins Sotutu (2024)
Caleb Clarke (2024)
Stephen Perofeta (2024)
Sevu Reece (2024)
Asafo Aumua (2025)
Josh Lord (2024)
PLAYERS YET TO CONFIRM THEY HAVE SIGNED BEYOND 2023
PLAYERS TO JOIN OVERSEAS CLUBS AFTER THE WORLD CUP
Pita Gus Sowakula
EXPECTED TO RETIRE OR GO OFFSHORE
CONTRACT STATUS NOT STATED ON PUBLIC RECORD