Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Ranger another to find return less than super

Players often head overseas thinking they can return successfully. Rene Ranger is the latest who is finding it may not be that simple, writes Gregor Paul.
Rene Ranger has yet to show his best form since returning to the Blues after two years in France. Photo / Jason Oxenham,
Rene Ranger has yet to show his best form since returning to the Blues after two years in France. Photo / Jason Oxenham,

There's an expectation it will just be a matter of time before Rene Ranger explodes into life at the Blues.

He's been quiet so far, failing to earn a place in the 23 to play the Reds last night but that's being attributed to his long injury layoff.

Maybe it's more than that, though. Maybe his two years in France robbed him of something essential. French club rugby is not entirely devoid of flair and imagination but the balance of the season belongs to grinding and grafting.

No one wins without a brutal forward pack and the mentality of all 14 clubs is that they have to beat up their opponents first before they can open them up.

No one does rapier without bludgeon and, by Ranger's admission, he became a little fed up chasing high balls as much as he did.

His time in Montpellier, which began in October 2013, wasn't all bad or deathly dull on the field, but he was exposed to a different type of rugby that was forward-orientated, set-piece obsessed and played mostly on softer pitches.

He didn't get his hands on the ball anywhere near as often as he would in Super Rugby and says he found it hard to adjust to long periods of inactivity on the field in France.
What no one knows quite yet is how hard he will find it is to adjust to the pace, intensity and energy of Super Rugby.

Just as it took him time to get used to the way of things in France, so too might he find that Super Rugby is a long, slow adjustment.

There is also the genuine prospect that he never quite gets there, either. He may never be the excitement machine he once was.

His ability to inject himself into the game in the most dramatic way and trust himself to beat players one-on-one, that may prove beyond recovery.

He was one player when he left and maybe now he's a different one.
He wouldn't be the first New Zealander to suffer that fate. There have been others who left, arguably, when they still had years of good rugby ahead of them, only to return home as an inferior version of their former selves.

To date, Jerome Kaino is the only exception and his circumstances were different.
After more than a decade of hammering himself, he left for Japan in 2012 and, rather than that being the breaking of him, it was an extended sabbatical of sorts.

He was able to recuperate from shoulder surgery, get himself supremely aerobically fit and play barely 20 games of lower-intensity, less-physical rugby.

Time in Japan rejuvenated him mentally, preserved him physically, and he returned to the Blues in k2014 almost the player he was in 2012, doing as well at the 2015 World Cup as he did at the 2011 tournament.

The outcomes have been different when Europe has been the overseas destination and the player has been a younger outside or inside back.

Luke McAlister left for England full of promise when he was 24 and returned at 27 barely half the player he'd been.

Daniel Bowden left in 2010 on the verge of the All Blacks and was touted as a possible England selection once he qualified.

He came back last year, unable to make any impression. He was let go by the Blues 12 months into a two-year contract.

Hosea Gear was another who felt he could rekindle an All Blacks career after a couple of seasons in Europe. The Chiefs signed him in 2015 and gave him a fair crack, but Gear didn't have the all-round skill-set most wings in New Zealand have developed. He was back in France before the World Cup kicked off.

- Herald on Sunday

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