By Tom Vinicombe of RugbyPass.com
Four new caps were named this week in the first All Blacks squad of the year.
Chiefs loosie Luke Jacobson, Highlanders first-five Josh Ioane and Crusaders backs Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece all received their first call-up to the national side. Front rowers Atu Moli (Chiefs) and Asafo Aumua (Hurricanes), who have been previously selected without playing a test, were also included in the squad.
Of these six uncapped players, four of New Zealand's five Super Rugby franchises are represented, with only the Blues failing to promote a new player into the squad.
That probably shouldn't be a huge surprise, given the Blues again finished bottom of the New Zealand conference.
The bigger concern for the country's biggest franchise is that of the newly-selected players, two were schooled in Auckland before heading elsewhere for their professional rugby.
Few Aucklanders sticking around for Super Rugby
Braydon Ennor captained the St Kentigern 1st XV before moving south for university and eventually provincial rugby, while Josh Ioane represented King's College but now runs out for Otago.
These two young players contribute to an already large contingent of Auckland-schooled All Blacks who have departed the region for greater opportunities elsewhere.
Of the 39 All Blacks selected this week, more than a quarter ran out for Auckland schools.
Alongside Ennor and Ioane, Angus Ta'avao, Vaea Fifita, Jack Goodhue, Ofa Tuungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Dalton Papalii, Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane all spent their final year of college in Auckland. Only the latter four represented the Blues in this year's Super Rugby.
Contrast that with the Crusaders, who have been the main benefactor of player movements since graduation and arguably fastidious player recruitment. Only seven of the most recently-selected All Blacks played for a Canterbury or Tasman high school, yet 11 of the current squad turned out for the Crusaders.
Crusaders reeling in the youth
Not one of Codie Taylor, Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, Jack Goodhue, George Bridge, Ennor or Reece played for high schools in the Crusaders catchment area. Only Moli, Anton Lienert-Brown and Brodie Retallick have abandoned the Crusaders juggernaut in favour of other franchises (all three at the Chiefs).
While there are numerous non-rugby justifications for moving provinces, it would be a huge mistake to write off these numbers as completely unrelated to the pull of the Crusaders and contrasting push of the Blues.
Long-term success not found at the Blues
The fact is an astronomically higher number of long-term All Blacks have come from the Crusaders than the Blues.
When considering only players not still in the formative years of their careers, almost 50 per cent more All Blacks have come from the Crusaders than the Blues since 2008. And those Crusaders are averaging more than three times as many caps as the Blues players.
Remember the likes of Rudi Wulf, Benson Stanley, Francis Saili, Frank Halai and George Moala? They were all Blues players who managed fewer than five caps for New Zealand. In the past 10 years, only three of the Crusaders' newly-minted All Blacks have earned five or fewer caps – all the more impressive when you consider the number they've produced.
Of course, the Crusaders have historically been New Zealand's top team – but the numbers don't look significantly brighter for the Blues even when comparing them with the other three franchises. Only the Highlanders have elevated fewer players to the national side in the past 10 years – but their All Blacks tend to stick around a lot longer. Jarrad Hoeata and Jamie Mackintosh both rose above their station but the Highlanders' other national representatives have all been able performers.
The Crusaders have an excellent recruitment system in place. Yes, players want to go to the franchise because of their success on and off the field but that doesn't mean the franchise's scouts aren't working tirelessly to ensure they've got the best players coming into the region on a regular basis. It seems the opposite story at the Blues, who both lose out on some of their home-grown talent and fail to promote the players they do retain.