‘We would like him back’: Razor plotting to bring back Richie as NZR open up on eligiblity, Sio staying put


As two-time World Cup Wallaby Scott Sio put pen to paper to extend his stay at Exeter, New Zealand Rugby is trying to bring back one of their stars from Japan.

Ever since Richie Mo’unga moved to the Japanese League One competition, new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson has been trying to lure back his “quarterback”.

After the duo combined spectacularly during a seven-year relationship with the Crusaders, Robertson has made it obvious at every turn that he wants Mo’unga to be his No.10 for the All Blacks.

Indeed, Robertson visited the 29-year-old recently during a trip to Japan to check on his overseas All Blacks.

The new All Blacks coach then floated the idea of opening up New Zealand Rugby’s eligibility policy to allow him to pick Mo’unga, who signed a three-year deal with Toshiba ahead of last year’s World Cup, from overseas.

But with that out of the question, plans are afoot to try and lure Mo’unga back early.

“It’s no secret New Zealand Rugby were sorry to see Richie leave at the time he did and we would like him back,” NZR general manager of professional rugby Chris Lendrum told Rugby Direct.

“You can imagine we’ve been talking to Richie, and others, while they’re offshore.

“Plan A is to get him back on a full-time contract as soon as we can. That involves working with his agent.”

New All Blacks coach Scott Robertson wants his former Crusaders playmaker Richie Mo’unga back in New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Asked specifically about bringing Mo’unga home early, Lendrum said they respected he was currently contracted with a foreign club but added there was interest from both parties about the prospect of the No.10 adding to his 56 caps.

“That’s a contractual matter and we work through that with his agent and him,” Lendrum said.

“I know Richie would love to pull on the black jersey again. We have to see when that can be. Then you work back from there.

“The fundamental is a player is committed, wants to play for the All Blacks, wants to be back in New Zealand, otherwise we’re talking about picking All Blacks from offshore – which is not in the plans.

“We would love Richie home as soon as we can. There are contracts. We respect those. He’s employed by Toshiba currently but we’ll be involved in conversations to see what’s possible.”

The NZ Herald reports that Mo’unga currently does not have a get-out clause in his contract.

After having an embarrassment of riches in the No.10 jersey for decades, Robertson seemingly hasn’t been happy with his options currently in New Zealand.

While Beauden Barrett will return home soon from a stint in Japan, the Blues-bound playmaker will turn 33 later this month and dropped down the pecking order behind Mo’unga in recent years.

Damian McKenzie and Richie Mo’unga following their 2024 Super Rugby clash at FMG Stadium Waikato on April 29, 2023. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Damian McKenzie is committed to New Zealand rugby, but the jury is still out on whether the Chiefs playmaker is an international No.10 despite being one of the best utility players in the world.

Stephen Perofeta is contracted with the Blues too, but the 27-year-old has been sidelined for weeks and there’s still concerns whether he’s a long-term All Black in any case.

As for the Crusaders and Highlanders, the two Super Rugby franchises have battled for form in 2024 with several changes in the No.10 jersey so much so that Robertson recently asked All Blacks utility back to move to the main playmaking position recently.

Lendrum said it was fair enough Robertson was engaged with players from overseas given he is the All Blacks but added that the governing body wasn’t about to have an open-door policy.

“I imagine every day that goes by it’s coming closer but it’s still a long, long way in the distance,” Lendrum said of All Blacks selection from offshore.

“The granting of sabbaticals or exemptions from our eligibility criteria are ultimately decided by the New Zealand Rugby board. Razor has come in and said ‘I’d like everybody to keep an open mind’. He hasn’t said too much more than that.

“Quite rightly as the All Blacks head coach he’s engaged in discussions with us as management about how we think it looks, what the risks are around players generally. As an All Blacks coach, like we do, he has conversations with players when they’re offshore.”

He added: “Having our best players playing consistently in New Zealand has been a critical part of our success,” Lendrum said. “You move away from that only in small steps and very cautiously. You’ve seen a small evolution in our sabbatical rules over the last 10 to 12 years.

“In order to move to a situation where we picked players from across Super Rugby Pacific, which is something that has been talked about and it’s not something we’re fundamentally closed to, the conditions have to be right.

“You have to look around the competition and say everybody involved has quality coaching, is investing in high performance so there’s enough medical care, physio support and they’re all producing an equivalent amount of talent.

“You can’t have a situation where New Zealand subsidises the talent of the competition. You’d want Australians populating New Zealand teams that New Zealanders are interested in watching and raise the standard of New Zealand teams, and vice versa.

“It’s not as simple as turning a key on eligibility. We will be very careful with how we expand and adjust our eligibility rules because the success of our teams in black is bottom line for New Zealand rugby and the country as a whole.”  

Former Wallabies prop Scott Sio has decided to extend his stay at Exeter Chiefs. (Photo by Bob Bradford – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Wallabies stalwart Sio is unlikely to pull on the gold jersey anytime soon after re-signing with Exeter.

“I’m really excited to be staying on at Chiefs and to see what the future holds for this group,” Sio told the official Exeter website.

“The club wants to contend for trophies and be successful, which is something I want to be a part of and is a big reason for my re-signing.”

Sio played for Australia in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final and spent 12 seasons with ACT Brumbies in Canberra before making the switch to Exeter.

Despite former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones being given greater flexibility to pick from overseas in his return season last year, Rugby Australia is hoping to harden their stance by picking from predominantly home.

It means Sio is unlikely to add to his 69 caps despite Australia’s front-row stocks hardly being strong.

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