All Blacks assistant coach Jason Ryan has called for a rethink on New Zealand’s player contracting model after form loose forward Shannon Frizell was allowed to sign in Japan when “he didn’t really want to go”.
With Frizell among a quartet of key All Blacks set to return from injury for the third World Cup pool game against Italy in Lyon next Saturday (NZT), Ryan has spoken out on the form of the previously red-hot No 6 and disappointment that he will be lost to the national team after this tournament.
The 28-test Highlanders forward has signed, alongside All Blacks team-mate Richie Mo’unga, to play in Japan for the Tokyo-based Toshiba Brave Lupus following this World Cup.
Ryan, who joined the All Blacks after Frizell had signed his Japan deal and will remain part of coaching setup under the incoming Scott Robertson, was critical of the situation that allowed a clearly reluctant Frizell to depart and hinted that work was going on “behind the scenes” that could have a bearing on how that plays out.
Ryan is on the record with his belief that Frizell’s best international rugby is still ahead of him, and is clearly irked that the strapping blindside won’t be in New Zealand to continue to do so in the black jersey of his country.
Frizell, alongside skipper Sam Cane, prop Tyrel Lomax and second five-eighths Jordie Barrett, looks set to provide a key injection of quality into the All Blacks as they all make their first appearances of the tournament. The 1-1 New Zealanders, off a bountiful bye week in Bordeaux, are looking to “change gears” for the back half of pool play in France.
The 29-year-old loose forward was outstanding for the All Blacks through their sweep of the Rugby Championship, and particularly against the Springboks in Auckland when a tour-de-force performance lit the fuse on a dominant victory. But a hamstring injury picked up prior to departure for the Cup has proved somewhat of a handbrake.
“Against South Africa at Mount Smart, he really stood up,” said Ryan after the All Blacks’ second big training hitout in Bordeaux on Friday. “I believe his best rugby is still ahead of him. He’s a big six, he’s pretty valuable for our lineout and with the form he was in [his absence] was a knock for us.”
Then the forwards coach confirmed conversations were taking place with the big blindside about his intentions for next season and beyond.
“We’ve had some good convos,” he said. “I think that could have been done better, to be honest. Shannon didn’t really want to go. So there’s a few things going on behind the scenes and I think sometimes that contracting stuff can be done a little bit better.
“He was at a stage … that something was thrown in front of him, and he didn’t probably have all the facts. I’m a big fan of Shannon. He’s got a lot of good tests in front of him for the All Blacks.”
Ryan was then quizzed about what needed to improve in the contracting space and specifically if communication was an issue. It was at this point that the gregarious Cantab probably figured he had said too much already.
“It’s probably a little bit of a mix of everything really,” he replied.
Did there need to be better alignment between the All Blacks and NZ Rugby?
“Not really. I just think it could have been done better. Whenever the contracts go in place there’s a mix of coaches, players and agents. So that’s probably where I’ll leave it. You boys are tapping into that one, aren’t you?”
Ryan confirmed all four of the previously injured quartet looked well placed to push for spots to face Italy. “They’re all progressing as we needed them to. They’ve tracked well, and we will reassess when we get back to Lyon.
”We’ve had two decent cracks at it, 15 on 15, and I think those boys, if we get the travel right and a bit of recovery heading into early next week, should be straight in if they get through.”
The All Blacks travel back to their pool base on Saturday (early Sunday NZT) after a productive bye-week in Bordeaux where key downtime was interspersed with a pair of high-intensity training sessions that Ryan believes has them ready to go to another level for the pivotal pool clash against Italy.
“We had a really physical presence at training today, which we wanted,” he said. “It’s really important for this All Blacks team to change gears and we believe that we’re leaving Bordeaux a better rugby team from the work we’ve put in.
“We got out what we needed to. We ran a couple of scenarios, and put the boys under a lot of pressure in different areas. We’re happy with how we’ve finished up.”
Ryan also said the full deck of personnel made selections this week even tougher than normal.
“It’s a big one for us. There’s no doubt about that. Italy play really quick, so the breakdown is going to be quite important. What that mix is will have to be right. Their set-piece stuff also. They had Neil Barnes over from New Zealand right through the Six Nations. So, we have to prepare accordingly.”
The All Blacks will arrive in Lyon just in time to take in the hugely anticipated Pool B decider between South Africa and Ireland in Paris. Given the New Zealanders will likely face the winner in a quarterfinal, Ryan anticipated a decent sort of watch party.