The post-World Cup exodus. It happened in 2015 and 2019, so is bound to happen again in 2023, especially with the pandemic now over; allowing players easier access to travel. 12 All Blacks have signed on to 2024, while a further eight have signed on to 2025, including Sam Cane and Ardie Savea.
50-test veteran Ofa Tu'ungafasi has signed through to 2024. Photo: Max Sharp.
The futures of those 16 players, as well as the departing Richie Mo'unga, Pita Gus Sowakula and Shannon Frizell, have been confirmed. How about the other 39 All Blacks, who are yet to decide their next move before this season ends, however?
While speculation can be somewhat of an invasive topic, we'll have a look at the known circumstances of each of these 39 players. This way, we can possibly predict which ones will weigh up contract extensions, moves to different Super Rugby teams, or potential exits to overseas-based clubs. Players who have signed to 2024 or 2025, will not be discussed in this article.
Tyrel Lomax (26 years old, 23 test caps)
Folau Fakatava (23 years old, 2 test caps)
Fletcher Newell (22 years old, 5 test caps)
Cullen Grace (23 years old, 1 test cap)
Leicester Fainga'anuku (23 years old, 2 test caps)
Quinn Tupaea (23 years old, 14 test caps)
Caleb Clarke (23 years old, 15 test caps)
Will Jordan (24 years old, 21 test caps)
The fact that all of these players are under the age of 25 years old, with plenty of rugby left to play, will mean they have a high likelihood of remaining in New Zealand.
Fakatava and Tupaea will miss the Rugby World Cup due to injury, so will be determined to return, while Grace will also be looking for a re-call in the years to come. Newell is set to be a future great, while NZ Rugby will be determined to get the most out of Fainga'anuku and Clarke, as young wingers tend to be the most prolific try-scorers. Jordan is also well on his way to reaching 30 test tries, while possibly harbouring ambitions of finally wearing the 15 jersey at test level, having not done so yet.
Chiefs' wing and centre, Quinn Tupaea, is on track to return for Waikato in September and will want to earn a re-call for 2024. Photo: Max Sharp.
While Lomax is far older than the other players in this category, his exit is highly unlikely. Props tend to peak around 28 to 31 years old, compared to most rugby players, who do so from around 25 to 27 years old. Lomax only became a regular starter in 2022, having previously returned to New Zealand from Australia, his nation of birth, with the ambition to be an All Black.
Lomax's body fat percentage has dropped immensely since his test debut in 2018, while he is an instant selection for the Hurricanes' starting XV. Having grown up in Wainuiomata, he sees the capital as home, while after rapid improvement as of late, Lomax will refuse to cede the momentum.
David Havili (28 years old, 25 test caps)
Scott Barrett (29 years old, 58 test caps)
Anton Lienert-Brown (27 years old, 60 test caps)
Finlay Christie (27 years old, 14 test caps)
Mark Telea (26 years old, 2 test caps)
These players are all at a realistic age at which they wouldn't be blamed for taking the overseas option. However, due to the circumstances of their careers, it would be more likely for them to remain on New Zealand soil.
Telea and Christie are only recent debutants, despite being in their mid-20's. Christie finally got a breakthrough in 2021 after Folau Fakatava was injured and has recently been promoted to Ian Foster's second-choice halfback. Aaron Smith's impending retirement will keep the door open for Christie, while his Blues teammate Telea, is a highly coachable player, who doesn't purely rely on power, despite weighing 100kg. Telea may have been 25 years old in his recent test debut, but both of his test caps, have been against immensely powerful opposition. Knowing his skillset could allow him to be older than most All Blacks wingers, Telea won't want to lose momentum.
Mark Telea (pictured in 2021) is the most recent All Black, having played both his tests in important occasions. Photo: Max Sharp.
Havili, Barrett and Lienert-Brown, will all likely stick around due to the value of their leadership at club level, while the lot of them are guaranteed picks for a match-day 23 barring injury. Lienert-Brown is also still young enough to reach 100 test caps, a milestone nobody could turn down. Havili and Barrett would almost certainly become key figures in a Scott Robertson era, which is still possible due to Steve Borthwick's selection as England coach.
Peter Umaga-Jensen (25 years old, 1 test cap)
Akira Ioane (27 years old, 21 test caps)
Ethan Blackadder (27 years old, 9 test caps)
Dominic Bird (31 years old, 2 test caps)
Luke Jacobson (25 years old, 12 test caps)
Braydon Ennor (25 years old, 6 test caps)
Damian McKenzie (27 years old, 40 test caps)
Rieko Ioane (25 years old, 59 test caps)
Umaga-Jensen, Blackadder, Jacobson, Ennor and McKenzie, are all players who have been sobered by the effects of injury, the Ioane brothers somehow remain underrated, while Bird, who has not been an All Black since 2017, has already made his money after 75 matches for Racing 92 in France. Bird may opt to retire, but could also want to have a decent crack with the Hurricanes after injury robbed him of a debut for his new team in 2022.
Dominic Bird (5) became the tallest-ever All Black after 2 tests and had a strong season for Wellington in 2022. Photo: Max Sharp.
While Rieko Ioane and Damian McKenzie are highly likely to attend the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the high salaries abroad will be tempting, especially for Ioane, who will be young enough to earn a re-call upon returning to New Zealand. Jacobson and Ennor are also young enough to play in the 2027 World Cup, but are they patient enough to make it that much of a wait after missing 2019?
Umaga-Jensen, Akira Ioane and Blackadder will have highly performance-based decisions to make. While Ioane leads the blindside flanker depth chart, Ian Foster appears to prefer Shannon Frizell and Scott Barrett at 6. Blackadder and Umaga-Jensen won't want to harm their World Cup chances with a move either, as this can damage the chances of fringe All Blacks, such as Luke Whitelock in 2019. However, how likely are those chances? If I had to take a wild guess, perhaps Umaga-Jensen could move to another Super Rugby team in 2024?
Josh Ioane (27 years old, 1 test cap)
TJ Perenara (30 years old, 80 test caps)
George Bower (30 years old, 22 test caps)
Angus Ta'avao (32 years old, 23 test caps)
Alex Hodgman (29 years old, 4 test caps)
Brad Weber (31 years old, 18 test caps)
These players are all getting on career-wise, so could definitely head overseas as they have limited time left; though particular sentiments may keep them on New Zealand soil, or Super Rugby at least. Ioane and the injured Perenara, both have their first-born very young children, who they may wish to keep around family, while Hodgman and Ta'avao are also fathers. Ioane has also now re-gained his eligibility for Samoa, so may shift to play for them, with the recent form of Bryn Gatland seemingly shutting the door on Ioane's chances in black.
Call-ups to Bower, Ethan de Groot and Aidan Ross (the latter two have signed on for 2024) mean Hodgman is no longer on the All Blacks' radar, but his Fijian heritage remains important. Having represented Fiji's U20 team in 2012, before doing so for New Zealand in 2013, a move to the Fijian Drua isn't out of the equation.
Former one-test All Black, Josh Ioane, breaks the line for the Chiefs. Photo: Max Sharp.
Because Perenara and Ta'avao are injured, they may stick around for farewell seasons in 2024. Word around town suggests Weber may be in for some commentary work in the future, though he could potentially head to his partner's native Ireland too. Bower may be just 30 with 22 caps, but is a qualified teacher, so may believe himself to be set for life after rugby.
The age of these players points to a high moving likelihood, but we'll see if these sentimental reasons could see the buck the trend of older All Blacks heading overseas, similarly to a Richie McCaw.
Dane Coles (36 years old, 84 test caps)
Jack Goodhue (27 years old, 18 test caps)
Aaron Smith (34 years old, 114 test caps)
Julian Savea (32 years old, 54 test caps)
Sam Whitelock (34 years old, 143 test caps)
Owen Franks (35 years old, 108 test caps)
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (29 years old, 3 test caps)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (27 years old, 3 test caps)
Brodie Retallick (31 years old, 100 test caps)
Nepo Laulala (31 years old, 45 test caps)
Beauden Barrett (31 years old, 112 test caps)
Being over 33 years old at the time of this article, it's a safe bet that Coles, Smith, Whitelock and Franks are highly likely to announce their retirements in 2023, particularly considering Franks and Whitelock have already played overseas. Retallick has also spoken publicly on a likely retirement, despite being a few years younger than the other players in this paragraph.
Savea, at 32, may potentially have a few more years left, though his previous overseas stint in Toulon, France, did sadly result in a pay cut. Perhaps Savea will join his brother in Japan? Money may also talk for league convert, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. After a poor outing in combination with Braydon Ennor against Japan, both players were dropped to play for the All Blacks XV. While Ennor is young enough to recover, Tuivasa-Sheck isn't, the doors are near-definitely shut on his days in black.
Beauden Barrett has won 49 competitive trophies with the All Blacks. Photo: Max Sharp.
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi hasn't quite lived up to his potential and initially missed up on a Super Rugby contract for 2023, before the Highlanders offered him a career lifeline. After this event, an overseas move is probably imminent.
To conclude, Nepo Laulala and Beauden Barrett, have both been linked with moves to France. Both of them are clearly young enough to continue playing, but aside from Laulala's trophy cabinet missing a World Cup and Super Rugby title due to injury, neither have anything left to prove on New Zealand soil. Laulala will reach 50 tests if he avoids injuries in 2023, while the one-time captain, Barrett, is the All Blacks' sixth-to-highest-ever try-scorer, with 41 in total. While these rumours may end up being false, nobody could blame them for taking the money; both of them are fathers.