WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Otago Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger says New Zealand might see a few homegrown players returning from Europe in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, reversing the trend of the last few years.

While most of Europe remains in lockdown because of the health crisis, New Zealand’s five Super Rugby went back to training this week to prepare for a 10-week domestic competition starting on June 13.

The Highlanders have already snapped up one All Black after luring outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder from the Wellington Hurricanes and Mauger thinks there might soon be more international talent available.

“I think there’s definitely potential for players returning from overseas,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“And the reason for that is that the context has changed. The context they thought they were going to has totally changed. Around living circumstances, ability to travel, clubs struggling with payments, all those things.

“All those things are definitely going to influence those decisions over whether they’re going to come home to play.”

New Zealand hooker Dane Coles, who has turned down several lucrative offers from European teams over the years, says the coronavirus crisis might make other All Blacks think twice about chasing big contracts abroad towards the end of their careers.

“It does make you appreciate being in New Zealand,” the Wellington Hurricanes captain told reporters in the nation’s capital.

“We heard some sad stories of guys playing in France and they’re still in lockdown and their contract is taking a massive hit.

“Very grateful that we’re in New Zealand and it’s definitely going to have an effect on people looking overseas in that UK and France market.

“New Zealand’s a great place, not a bad place to finish up your career.”

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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