All Blacks superstar Beauden Barrett is set to miss the 2021 Super Rugby season after inking a deal with Japanese side Suntory Sungoliath. Barrett will still be eligible to represent the All Blacks in 2021 when returns to New Zealand for the international season.
The flexibility in Barrett’s contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZR), allow him to skip Super Rugby in 2021. He will then remain in New Zealand until the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The overseas playing rule remains a bone of contention for the purist at the NZR. Overseas players are ineligible to represent the national side. Current World Cup holders, South Africa, have been one of the few nations to relax this law in recent years. It worked to perfection in Japan in 2019, when they lifted the Rugby World Cup.
Barrett only switched from the Hurricanes to the Auckland Blues in 2020. Coach Leon McDonald was aware that Barrett, was looking to exercise the sabbatical clause in his contract with NZR. The Blues coach confirmed with NZ media that they were aware of Barrett’s plan before he signed with the Blues.
“It makes sense – we don’t want them to leave our shores for good. A little bit of short-term pain between World Cups allows them to come back and play rugby in New Zealand for New Zealand at the peak of their careers. It’s always disappointing when you lose players at 28, 29, 30 when probably their best rugby is being played at that age and they’re contributing the most back to the group with all their experience and learning so to have them involved in the latter part of their career is really important to New Zealand rugby.”
Sabbaticals have become the norm for the top Super Rugby talent in New Zealand. The NZR has opened up to the possibility of their top players taking breaks in Japan and Europe, to extend their international career with New Zealand. The break has become a proven method to bridge the salary gap for New Zealand’s top talent.
New Zealand rugby expects this to continue for the bulk of the national side as they struggle to compete with the larger contracts on offer from cashed-up European club sides.