The New Zealand All Blacks continue with their traditional conveyor belt of talented young rugby players. Tawera Kerr-Barlow is just one of many young guns coming through.
Even if scrum-half is a position covered with an embarrassment of riches it hasn’t stopped them drafting in Australian born-and-raised Tawera Kerr-Barlow to develop behind established no.9’s Piri Weepu and Aaron Smith. The halfback plays his club rugby with All Black second choice fly-half Aaron Cruden at the Chiefs (formerly Waikato Chiefs) and as the imperious Dan Carter shows no sign slowing, he is now 30 and the question of a future half-back partnership looms for silver ferns’ management.
Called up to the All Black squad for the first time ahead of their November tour to the Northern Hemisphere it marked an important moment for the player who had dreamed his whole relatively short life of playing for the All Blacks. It did however cause controversy as the decision to call up an Australian came only days after team coach Steve Hansen lambasted Australia for ‘pinching’ Auckland born-and-raised Mike Harris. But this is rugby, and of all sports, its lax attitude to the claiming of players’ nationality is something that New Zealand have and continue to make full use of.
That’s all a worn out argument, but interestingly, a new problem is rearing its head as Kerr-Barlow has expressed his interest in representing New Zealand in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro 2016. Kerr-Barlow said he was committed to Union but the lure of an Olympic appearance could not be ignored. "Of course, you ask anyone who's interested in sport, I'd love to go to the Olympics," he said. "I'd blimmin' go as a swimmer if I was a good swimmer. It is real exciting, but I'm just concentrating on 15s.”
Rugby sevens will appear in the Olympics for the first time and New Zealand will covet that historical first gold medal probably more than any other nation. Some talented young players will have a choice to make as the NZRFU may seek a full commitment to up and coming players to play only Union.
The acceptance of rugby into the Olympics is lauded as fundamental to growing the global game and unlocking the all-important Olympic funding, but it comes with a caveat. As the Olympics must be considered the pinnacle of any sport, and the IRFU obviously wanted to protect their lucrative tournaments, especially the World Cup, it was deemed that the seven-man version of the game only would be admitted by the International Olympic Committee.
The danger is that rugby sevens, a more entertaining and potentially more marketable product than Union, which can at time deteriorate into a war of attrition with low scoring, could overtake the traditional game of Union in emerging economies, and eventually drain players if a professional league were to emerge.