When Beauden Barrett's contract was up for renewal in 2016 every club in New Zealand wanted him but only the Hurricanes were ever going to get him.

Barrett, who grew up watching the Hurricanes for whom his father played, never once considered leaving the club he had joined in 2011 as a 19-year-old.

"It would be hard to see him move from there," said Blues coach Tana Umaga at the time, while confirming he'd made an offer to Barrett.

"We've shown interest and we'll see how that goes. But we are not banking on him leaving because he's such an integral part [of the team] down there."


It was the same when Kieran Read was off contract in early 2017. He was never going to leave the Crusaders or give the prospect a single thought.

Ben Smith, born and bred in Dunedin, has never been on the market in New Zealand.

He looked at offshore clubs in early 2017, but once he knew he was staying in New Zealand, it was only ever going to be with the Highlanders.

The best players in the country don't waver when it comes to making a commitment to their Super Rugby club.

The likes of Barrett, Read, Smith, Dane Coles, Aaron Smith, Ryan Crotty, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock have never felt the need to ask whether it would be better for their respective careers to switch Super Rugby allegiance.

The Blues, as is often the case, are the exception. For the last decade, maybe longer, there has never been a guarantee that their best players would automatically re-sign.

There is some kind of subliminal pressure on the best Blues players to consider shifting if they are serious about getting the best out of themselves.

That was evident early this week when Hurricanes coach-elect John Plumtree revealed that Blues loose forward Akira Ioane had been touted around the country.

Born and bred in Auckland, Ioane came through all the age-grade representative teams in the city and first played for the Blues in 2015.

He is seen as an integral part of the Blues' future, a local boy with the explosive physique and skills to be a world-class performer and yet he entered serious negotiations with the Hurricanes about shifting there.

"He was made available to every franchise in the country a little while ago and I'm sure there were a lot of clubs interested in Akira, like we were, but we believe he's staying at the Blues," said Plumtree.

The Blues had the red carpet rolled out for him, but still Ioane needed to ask whether he could be the player he wants to be by staying there.

It's a delicate business because it is obvious now that promising players fear they will be judged for lacking ambition if they opt to stay with the Blues.

Ioane has played his way to the cusp of the All Blacks but can't find the last components he needs to crack the squad.

There are plenty of good judges who now wonder whether Ioane has made the wrong choice by staying – given the impression he's opted to stay in his comfort zone where his bad habits will be tolerated.

If he was serious about making the All Blacks surely he would have moved? That seems to be the inference and it is one which is a killer for the Blues' reputation.

And that ultimately is what should trouble the Blues most - is this growing sentiment that the club restricts the potential growth of local superstars who can only fix their flaws by getting away.

Barrett stays with the Hurricanes and everyone says good choice; Ioane turns them down and plenty wonder whether he has done the wrong thing.

This sense of players underselling themselves by staying at the Blues is presumably a consequence of continued dire results and underperformance.

It hasn't helped that the likes of Waisake Naholo and Malakai Fekitoa were barely used when they were at the Blues and both encouraged to leave.

A year after Fekitoa moved to the Highlanders he was an All Black and two years later Naholo followed him into the national squad after spending a season playing sevens and then joining the Highlanders.

Ioane has made his commitment to the Blues but the fact he flirted with the Hurricanes isn't a great advert for the club and doesn't bode well for their future retention prospects.