COMMENT:

Trust the Tartar of Toulon to provide the biggest laugh for a while as he ripped into Julian Savea.

Mourad Boudjellal had a nasty slap at Savea's performances for his club and, in doing so, did New Zealand a favour. He reminded us that what the Europeans spend a lot of money buying sometimes doesn't live up to the asking price.

More than that, he emphasised that the line New Zealand Rugby has been parroting for years (black jersey outweighs blank cheque) is dead right.

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If you think about it, no one in their right mind believes an All Black, generally closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, will perform to their maximum in the European club cauldron.

How could they? Even if the player concerned is conscientious and committed, they have been playing for the No. 1 team in the world in what has been, over the last 10 years or so, a pretty special time for the All Blacks.

There's a big difference between winning World Cups and turning out for Toulon. The give-your-guts ethic that powers the All Blacks doesn't really translate to sitting in a bistro in the south of France with the wife and kids, slicing off great gouts of Roquefort cheese, hoovering up a cassoulet, washed down with a good merlot that only cost a few euro.

That's the thing with all the European journeys. The missus and the billy lids are there, so it feels like a bit of a holiday already. It pulls up to the kerb of that beckoning era…retirement. Even though they are still playing and training plenty, they don't have the whole nation setting fire to effigies of them if they make a mistake. The soleil still shines.

Julian Savea with wife Fatima and daughters Cora and Jude. Photo / Instagram.
Julian Savea with wife Fatima and daughters Cora and Jude. Photo / Instagram.

Speaking on Radio Sport Breakfast this week, Russell Hargreaves, Talksport commentator from the UK, said he was underwhelmed by Kiwi stars playing in Europe: "The current crop are probably under-delivering and one or two of the new ones signed for next season, I'm not entirely sure are going to be an awful lot better.

"I just wonder with the consistency, the application, the fitness, the mental stimulation of being over here, are some of those guys making the most of it? I'm not entirely sure. You just want quality overseas players who come, give it their best, reflect well on those that play around them, galvanise the crowd and get that right balance for a couple of seasons before they go home or retire."

Hilarious stuff. Hey mister, you just bought a dog with three legs…

The Boudjella outburst can be explained in the context of Toulon being 11th of 14 clubs this season – which can't all be down to Savea.

No one is saying the exports don't try hard in the enduring grind of European club rugby but (I'm exempting Richie McCaw; he's a freak) no one can be the world's best player every game at every level. When you've stood at the top of Everest, in sporting terms, it's not quite the same getting on the ladder to clear the guttering.

It's like Lewis Hamilton winning Formula 1 (again) and then being paid a fortune to head overseas to race go-karts. Chances are he won't approach it in quite the same focused fashion.

New Zealand players, principally but not always former All Blacks, are highly unusual if their psyche is not affected by (a) the money and (b) "the experience".

Julian Savea during the Pasifika Challenge clash between the All Blacks and Samoa at Eden Park in 2017. Photo / Greg Bowker.
Julian Savea during the Pasifika Challenge clash between the All Blacks and Samoa at Eden Park in 2017. Photo / Greg Bowker.

France's reward? A national team demonstrating how the tide of foreign players has swept away young French players coming through. Anyone who saw their display against England in the Six Nations will find that difficult to debate.

Yet, in recent days, every time the oh-so-predictable announcement comes from another senior All Black that Europe or Japan awaits after the World Cup, the squealing becomes so shrill only dogs can hear it.

At last count, there were just under 50 All Blacks playing in other countries – about 36 of them in Europe. Sure, there have been successes like Nick Evans, Charles Piutau, Carl Hayman and several more. But have the All Blacks truly suffered?

Now Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Matt Proctor, Jordan Taufua, Ben Smith, Owen Franks and Nehe Milner-Skudder are all off to Europe with Liam Squire and Kieran Read heading to Japan. There will be more.

Meanwhile, from the first round of Super Rugby, we can look at the new crop: the head-turning performances of Tom Robinson (Blues), Pari Pari Parkinson (Highlanders) and Braydon Ennor (Crusaders) along with let's-see-more showings of Etene Nanai-Seturo and Bailyn Sullivan (Chiefs) and flanker Du'Plessis Kirifi (Hurricanes).

The real danger to New Zealand rugby is in shrinking numbers playing at secondary schools and second stringers who leave, losing a chance to become All Blacks, maybe even great All Blacks.

But, really, are even those threats as grave as made out? In recent years, while the All Blacks have been winning two World Cups, we have seen the following non-All Blacks pursue international rugby elsewhere: Brad Shields, Thomas Waldrom (both England), Bundee Aki, Isaac Boss, Nathan White, Jared Payne (Ireland), Jayden Hayward, Dean Budd (Italy), Gareth Anscombe (Wales) and Sean Maitland and John Hardie (Scotland).

"Second stringers" playing in the English premiership include Michael Fatialofa, Tom Marshall, Jason Woodward, Blade Thomson and Josh Bekhuis.

Now, with all due respect to those fine players, has the absence of any truly hampered All Black rugby? Didn't think so.