Richie McCaw's hoped-for anointment as the seventh World Cup winning-captain in Auckland today will be the prelude to a bidding war that could bring the All Black skipper to England. With the Aviva Premiership relaxing its salary cap to include an open-ended margin for a so-called "marquee player", McCaw's agent in New Zealand has admitted that he expected bids for the three-times world player of the year to come from England, France and Japan.
Click HERE to view graphic (216k jpg)
Premiership clubs agreed last May to exclude one player from each team's £4.26 million cap from the start of the 2012-13 season. Simon Porter of Essentially, agents to McCaw, Dan Carter and two-thirds of the All Black squad, said the "haves" in England – who include Bath, Leicester and Northampton – were likely to make bids for a top All Black.
Alongside McCaw and Carter, who have "sabbaticals" written into their contracts – an agreement that allows a break of a length negotiable between the player and the New Zealand Rugby Union – the front-rowers Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock and the centre Conrad Smith are on the wrong side of 30 and may be tempted.
"Come January, when recruitment in the UK starts, I anticipate there will be teams in England interestedin the top few All Black players," Porter said. The 13-week regular season in the Japan Top League that will not impact greatly on New Zealand Test commitments or the big money on offer in France will be rival lures to England's. Not forgetting 16 NRL rugby league teams in Australia who are about to double their salary cap.
Carter, who had a spell with Perpignan in 2008, has said he will consider a short-term switch to Japan. Will McCaw, who will turn 31 in December, take the bait? He may just take a rest, as the break clause also allows. According to Rob Nichol, the chief executive of the New Zealand players' association: "Ask Richie whether he'd move and he wouldn't know right now. Sometimes just by doing the common-sense thing and making that overseas option available, it is enough to persuade the player to stay."
The NZRU have worked hard – and paid well – to keep their skipper at home. A side effect has been less money to spend on those in the shadow of the glitterati. A survey of the top leagues in the UK, Ireland, Italy, France and Japan reveals an incredible 151 New Zealanders of Test, Super Rugby or provincial standard playing overseas. There is a black hole looming in New Zealand rugby that could see them struggle in the short to medium term.
"What we are losing is that next tier: the good pros aged 26 or 27, who decide they're not going to be a regular All Black," said Porter. "We recently lost three fly-halves – Stephen Donald [to Bath], Mike Delany [Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan] and Stephen Brett [Toyota Verblitz in Japan] in one fell swoop."
Porter said the UK's immigration rules almost oblige a some-time All Black like Donald to hightail it while he is young and a recent Test starter – rather than wait and risk being dropped by New Zealand and so miss the qualifying window for a working visa. "The biggest heartache is the seasoned pros we'll miss out on," said Porter. "Guys like Craig Newby [at Leicester], Clarke Dermody [at London Irish] and Scott Hamilton [Leicester] who would have been valuable bringing through our young players. In pre-season now those youngsters will be left to their own devices."
It is easy to see why the NZRU are agitating for a greater share of the revenue from away Tests. England make £5m from a home Test against New Zealand and give the All Blacks about a tenth of it. "We need to do more with the commercialisation of our New Zealand rugby brand," Nichol said. "That's not to blame England or anyone else. It's just about getting a fair dollar."
And the appeal of a New Zealanderoverseas? Porter said: "What clubs like is their work ethic. We're known for mucking in and getting the work done on the training pitch."
Coaches are another big export. Two of the All Blacks' fellow World Cup semi-finalists – Wales and Australia – were coached by Kiwis and 10 other New Zealanders assisted various sides at the tournament. Nichol said: "Our players' good game awareness comes from picking up a ball at three or four years of age and having wonderful parents and coaches throughout their lives. All you can do with a character like Carter is ensure there's no reason why he would not want to stay. Even when they go we say, 'Go well, young man.' I get a big buzz when I hear of a Nick Evans adding great value to a club abroad like Harlequins."
- More about: