Three players from the southern hemisphere explain how the deals were done

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The Independent Online
Jason Little


I FIRST heard about the WRC before the World Cup, just after the Super League became news down here, and I was quite excited when I was told about it by some former Wallaby players. I have, however, been in a different position to the other Wallabies throughout the discussion period. The Australian Rugby Union have, over the last few years, been very good to me and I didn't want to turn my back on everything that they had done. Also there were a few concepts in the WRC that I didn't agree with. I didn't like the idea of the franchising of teams like in American football, and while I thought their idea of a global competition was great the format of it meant that touring - which for me is one of the best parts of rugby - would come to an end. The longest trip you'd get under WRC was two weeks.

This was why I declared myself for the ARFU 11 days ago. Tim Gavin had done the same a few days earlier and we had spoken about our feelings, but I would have done it with or without him. I rang all the players prior to my announcement so they wouldn't have to find out through the papers, so they would understand the reasons for my decision and so, if they had anything to say, they could say it there and then. Their reaction, though, was very good. I was pretty worried nevertheless that I might end up in a different competition to the others and after the last Bledisloe Cup match I did wonder whether I would be playing with them ever again as the Wallabies.

I didn't intend my decision to sway the others as I thought it should have been down to the individuals to decide their future. I'm single and unmarried; other people have different circumstances. So after I'd made my decision public, I still sat in on squad discussions, but I didn't take an active role at all. Obviously I was pleased when the negotiations came to an end on Wednesday. The other players were relieved that their future was settled; I was delighted that their future was with me.

Sean Fitzpatrick

(New Zealand)

IT IS a very stressful period that we have just been through, it's been a very big decision for the players and I think they have all handled themselves very well. We should not, however, underestimate the WRC, in fact we all - the administrators as well as the players - have to be very grateful to it. WRC has shown us the way basically and has helped us put in place many of the changes. Right from the beginning they said that they wanted what was best for the players and at the end of the day they could see that WRC being there wasn't going to be best for the game and that is why they pulled out.

The result is that all parties are very happy with the conclusion. The players' priorities were to continue playing rugby together and to do what was best for the game in New Zealand. In the final analysis, money didn't really come into it because there wasn't a great deal of difference between the two offers. Everyone had an input into what was said at the squad meetings and the younger players were as vocal as anyone. Throughout all this I have been a middleman, a spokesman, for the All Blacks. I was not, as the press has suggested, working for WRC. There's no way I ever accepted any money or worked as an agent for them.

When it came down to it, there were two options on the table. We had said we wanted to stay together, but the future was always down to each individual and when Jeff Wilson and Josh Kronfeld decided before the rest of us to stay with the NZRFU, that did affect how we made our decisions. I appreciated Jeff and Josh making their own minds up. The Springboks decided not to go with WRC early on but their decision was not in our reckoning and it is not the case at all that we only went for the establishment once WRC was dead and buried. We simply decided that staying with the union was the best option for us, though actually the WRC told us that anyway. The players and the administrators are very happy with the conclusion.

Joel Stransky

(South Africa)

I FEEL a great sense of relief that the negotiations are over at last. I was one of the three players on our players' committee and we were flying everywhere talking to people from all sides. It's naturally going to be stressful when you're worrying about your own future, yet we had to take on board the futures of young South African players as well, and the hardest part of the whole process was fighting on behalf of our provincial players. I always thought that they deserved to get a lot of money, too, whether Packer was there or not.

The WRC became a possibility straight after the World Cup - I hadn't known about it beforehand - and Francois Pienaar was acting for the WRC. Since Francois's involvement became public, a lot of people have persecuted him for it, but this has not really been fair. He did what any man in his position would have done; he was just looking to get a better deal for himself and for the team. He was just giving us options.

We then formed the players' committee It met on a number of occasions and we saw all the other players twice. Everyone was always kept informed. The important thing was that we sat down as a team, acknowledged that we'd become a happy family together and decided that whatever we did, it would be together. Obviously two guys were tempted to go to rugby league [Pieter Muller and Christiaan Scholtz] and they had to weigh that one up for themselves, but while we were in union, the rest of us were to stay together.

We had to look at all options. Having won the World Cup, we'd achieved something great, so I thought we definitely deserved a good deal. It was not the case that the money from Sarfu had to equal the WRC offer, we just wanted what we thought was fair. However, when you make a decision, you have to go back to your roots and look at what got you into that position. At the end of the day we felt it would be better to preserve the history of South African rugby, and its future too.