We have once again witnessed the end of an era to the New Zealand national team. After coming back home from the Rugby World Cup with runners-up medals, 10 All Blacks are heading overseas with moves to clubs outside of New Zealand.
Amongst the 10 players, four era-defining stars are confirmed to have retired from international duties. The remaining six head overseas, in moves that will take them out of the All Blacks fold for the foreseeable future, yet the door remains open for their return to the black jersey. There is a definitive feel of 2015 to the current All Blacks side, as New Zealand entered a transitional period following their back-to-back Rugby World Cup glory.
Six icons of the black jersey all retired from the international scene eight years ago, as Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Kevin Mealamu, Conrad Smith and Tony Woodcock hung up their test match boots. After returning home from France, Ian Foster has also stepped down from the All Blacks, with Scott Robertson set to take over the reins as Head Coach.
Robertson is a proven winner as a Head Coach, having taken the Crusaders to five consecutive Super Rugby titles (two Super Rugby Aotearoa). However, with such a key group of the All Blacks set to leave the international scene at least for the 2023/24 season, Robertson has some key decisions to make. England are reportedly set to tour New Zealand for a three-match series next Summer, with the All Blacks also set to participate in the 2024 Rugby Championship against Australia, South Africa and Argentina.
However, these 10 players won’t be included. Here are the All Blacks that have left New Zealand, following their involvement in the 2023 Rugby World Cup squad.
1. Dane Coles – Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay
One of the four New Zealand veterans that have hung up their test match boots, 90-capped All Black Dane Coles looked set for his full rugby retirement earlier this week. However, the hooker is set for one last run in Japan, as Tokyo side Kubota Spears announced Coles as a star-signing for the 2023/24 Japan Rugby League One season.
Coles heads to Japan as a late signing, following the injury to Spears’ star hooker Malcolm Marx. Marx was side-lined for the majority of the Rugby World Cup, as the Springbok picked up a severe knee injury in a mid-week training session. The hooker featured just once in France, during South Africa’s narrow opening round win over Scotland in Pool B.
Coles comes in as a well-matched replacement, with Marx reportedly set to miss the entirety of the season. At 36-years-old, this looks like the final stop on Coles’ farewell tour. He will be lining up against numerous All Blacks teammates in the Japan Rugby League One, as well as teaming up with Wales’ fullback Liam Williams at the Spears. Coles has never before ventured to Japan, as his 17-year career has seen him stay in New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington with the Hurricanes.
2. Aaron Smith – Toyota Verblitz
The Rugby World Cup Final witnessed an emotional send-off to arguably the greatest All Blacks scrum-half of all time. Aaron Smith led the Haka for the final time in his career, with his passion burning bright as he lined-up against the Springboks. A disallowed try was a brutal way to end Smith’s decorated All Blacks career, as the halfback heads to Japan having achieved all he can with New Zealand.
Smith was the integral ammunition distributor to Dan Carter, as New Zealand won the 2015 Rugby World Cup. 2015 also marked the year that Smith reached the top of the Super Rugby mountain, as he led his beloved Highlanders to glory over Dane Coles’ Hurricanes. Smith is the second-most capped Super Rugby player, and one of two iconic All Blacks that depart New Zealand for Toyota Verblitz in the near future (more on that shortly). This will be the first venture outside of New Zealand for the 34-year-old.
It has become relatively common practice, for the top All Blacks stars to take a sabbatical season outside of Super Rugby, and earn the high-paying wages that are not available in New Zealand. However, like Coles, Smith is yet to do that, and had an emotional farewell after his 185th and final Highlanders match. Smith has been a mainstay of the All Blacks fray since 2012, battling against the likes of TJ Perenara, Brad Weber and most recently Finlay Christie to keep his jersey for a staggering 124 test caps.