Warning for NZ Rugby as 15 All Blacks set to head overseas

Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 13 December 2018, 8:56PM
Chris Boyd warns that New Zealand could soon see a mass exodus of players. (Photo / Photosport)
Chris Boyd warns that New Zealand could soon see a mass exodus of players. (Photo / Photosport)

Chris Boyd has laid bare major retention challenges facing New Zealand Rugby by stating every All Black is forgoing significant sums when choosing to stay at home and expressing concern over the trend of young talent leaving.

New Zealand's on-going player exodus is well documented but it has possibly never been put this bluntly before.

Given the evolving landscape where players are now content to depart at the start of careers, it is not alarmist to suggest offshore riches are a greater threat than ever.

"I think they're going to do really well to keep their best players playing for the All Blacks," Boyd, the former Hurricanes now Northampton Saints coach, told the Herald in a wider-ranging interview this week.

"We could accept that a 28, 29, 30-year-old, a Jerome Kaino who had finished his career with the All Blacks, then he goes to France and has a good few years to help set up his family.

"What is irritating the New Zealand Rugby Union and rightly so is the 23, 24, 25-year-olds that still could go another World Cup cycle in New Zealand have chosen to select the money over the black jersey, and it's as brutal as that."

In this delicate space, NZ Rugby is fast approaching a crossroads.

The Herald understands up to 15 All Blacks could be missing from the 2020 Super Rugby season.

That would include Ben Smith and Kieran Read, who will depart post World Cup, but also may encompass the likes of Waisake Naholo, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Owen Franks, Ryan Crotty and Aaron Smith, among others.

Then there are those seeking sabbaticals; Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are known to be eyeing the potential of a double season in Japan or lucrative short-term stints elsewhere before returning home.

Others may also opt for a crack at chasing an Olympic medal with the sevens team that year.

As Boyd points out, the scramble by competing overseas clubs to capture All Blacks next year will be frenzied.

"Many New Zealand guys, particularly at the highest end, will have exits post World Cup. Those guys will come onto the international market in September next year so they could potentially play in next year's competition wherever that is."

The fresh worry for NZR is talent being picked off at all ages as the mentality of emerging athletes, often fuelled by a sense of entitlement, rapidly changes.

Look no further than 21-year-olds leaving for France when they don't immediately earn Super Rugby contracts.

Add in the potential for these players to eventually qualify for other nations, and concern is mounting around the erosion of depth and long-term sustainability of the New Zealand game.

"It's really important for our domestic competitions that we continue to select All Blacks from our local teams," Boyd said. "I would support that always at this stage but the lure to either go to Japan, France or the UK when you're ready is getting stronger."

The local rugby climate is increasingly challenging, too. Attracting crowds and revenue is difficult at all levels, and the economics of being a small country means New Zealand will always rely too heavily on broadcast deals to try bridge the gap.

"The thing that keeps New Zealanders in New Zealand is playing for their franchises and the black jersey but they've all got to weigh it up.

"The general public in New Zealand needs to understand every single person that wears the All Black jersey is making a financial choice to play in that jersey for less money than what he could get overseas.

"It's not a sacrifice, it's a choice. They're not going to die – that's a sacrifice.

"But it is their choice and so I think there will become more and more people that will be challenged by that choice as the gap between the black jersey and the money, whether it be yen, euros or pounds, gets wider."

With their willingness to be flexible, primarily at the top end, and inventive in terms of moving to form alliances with clubs abroad, NZ Rugby is doing everything it can to retain the best of the best.

Yet there is a growing sense the worst is yet to come.

Boyd does, however, point out New Zealand is far from alone in this southern battleground.

With the Rand registering 1/£17, South Africa has little choice but to grant endless young stars permission to skip their domestic Currie Cup season and in order to top up earnings in Japan before returning to Super Rugby.

Effectively playing year-round, Springboks playmaker Handre Pollard is the classic case of but one superb talent who suffered a raft of serious injuries early in his career as a direct result of burnout.

This could soon be relevant to New Zealand in the case of Barrett, Retallick and, potentially, future All Blacks captain Whitelock.

"There is real concern over player welfare but when I speak to the South Africa coaches and say 'why do you let your young guys go to Japan' the answer is if they don't go there they'll pack up and go to Europe.

"They have bigger problems than we have in New Zealand."


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