Comings and Goings in New Zealand Rugby
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 16: Julian Savea of New Zealand breaks through the England defense to score the opening try during the QBE International match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium on November 16, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

More often, the news is of rugby players leaving New Zealand Rugby can dominate headlines for the wrong reasons. Leaving due to a better wage, or for a better level of ‘security for their families future’ is the all too common explanation.

That argument, and the rationale of comparative earnings, is difficult to match. Hundreds of thousands paid by New Zealand Rugby (NZR) can be countered with [now] millions of dollars. The reward offshore is now unequal in the domestic market, and so recent announcements by players can support that market.

The names of players moving can often be key links in the current team. But with Julian Savea (see main picture) confirming a move north to French Rugby, the writing was on the wall.

Yet, with all the comings and goings recently, you find alternative needs and motivations can be found.

Comings and Goings in New Zealand Rugby

Rewards are hard to match. Just as in the past when the UK pound was detrimental to All Blacks careers, when players like Carl Hayman and Nick Evans left the NZR. Others too, have and will continue to, be drawn by the reward and change in lifestyle.

Julian Savea is an 54 test All Black. Scoring 46 tries; second only to Doug Howlett on the all-time try-scoring records for New Zealand. He was undoubtedly at one time, the most attacking outside back in the World.

And at 27, many would have thought that he still had plenty to offer. Both for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby, but also in the Mitre 10 Cup. In fact, Savea captained the Lions to their Championship elevation to the Premiership in 2018. It seems a shame that he cannot enjoy those heights, for his beloved ‘black and yellow’ brothers.

Julian Savea of Wellington beats the tackle of George Bridge of Canterbury during the Mitre 10 Cup match between Wellington and Canterbury on September 17, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

But similarly to others who have found it hard to regain their first-pick status in the All Blacks, that he and his wife Fatima have chosen to follow others to French Rugby.

Julian Savea joins Toulon for 2018/19 French Top14

Today, the French franc and Japanese yen can be seen as the drawcard that see’s comings and goings in New Zealand rugby. Recent announcements by Savea and by Matt Todd, who will join the Panasonic Wild Knights after his commitments to Super Rugby end.

But unlike Savea; who will be lost to the chequebook of Toulon for multiple seasons, Todd has mirrored Elliot Dixon, in playing one season of Japanese rugby before returning for the 2019 Super Rugby season. So not a full departure, but a ‘capital raising’ venture, that still see’s them play in New Zealand next season.

Rugby union will always have ‘comings and goings’ – players re-signing, retirements and offshore signings. NZR just have to react, adapt and engage the market. React with improved rewards; as earnings and the yield from the All Blacks brand, draws higher earnings. That means the elite and the mid-level players can be enticed to stay longer.

So while Lima Sopoaga, Seta Taminivalu and Dominic Bird leave, the difficulty for the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and NZR is, how to retain players on the fringes of the All Blacks? All three players have Test caps, but had either been viewed as the third or fourth choice – not guaranteed of selection for the June Tests, or for The Rugby Championship.

Sometimes, it is better to allow some to leave

Financially, New Zealand Rugby cannot compete. If they pay the top-tier of All Blacks the market rate, then any cash reserves will be squandered. Savea in 2015 was in that echelon – but not so much in 2018.

What works is that selected players like Beauden Barrett are offered a higher premium; or third-party rewards, in the hope they remain in New Zealand. That is both to retain, and also to motivate for a ‘performance based’ system.

Beauden Barrett of New Zealand goes over to score his side’s second try during the New Zealand All Blacks and Samoa at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The current game breakers and established leaders are ring-fenced, in a hope it would benefit the team overall. Yet, it means that your three or four Test All Blacks – like Bird or Taminivalu, who might not be re-selected – NZR cannot afford any more reward, to compete with market offers. They might leave, provided the likes of Scott Barrett or Jack Goodhew [future stars] are invested in.

Ethically, there is more to the game than money alone. Some players will feel they are loyalty bound to a team, province or club. Men like Wyatt Crockett have shunned the offshore market. He in fact will play Mitre 10 Cup, rather than leave for Japan or the Celtic League riches. Hats off to the individual, for his moral code and the example it sets.

But for Julian Savea, his contribution is respected by not competing. NZR chief executive Steve Tew said, “Julian goes with our blessing and we know that French rugby fans will quickly embrace him as their own.  We thank Julian for his contribution to New Zealand rugby, and we wish him and his family well for their move to Toulon.”

Savea leaves on good terms – a better lesson than others

His departure is more convivial than Charles Piutau’s was. The former-All Black left on bad terms, and it is unknown if he will return to the New Zealand market. He is currently the highest paid player in the Gallagher Premiership. Fans would hope for his return, but as is the way in sport – another player around the corner might appeal more.

So for Julian Savea , Brad Shields, Jerome Kaino, and the latest players to choose the road offshore, you cannot begrudge their choice. New Zealand Rugby must say ‘All the Best’ and look to invest in the current group. Invest in emerging players from the Under 20 squad, the next wave and (as NZR have always done) in the grassroots of the game. Because that is where the next Savea maybe found.

 

“Main photo credit”
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