Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Retentions keep the faith

Israel Dagg is one of 14 senior players who have extended their contracts.  Photo / Brett Phibbs
Israel Dagg is one of 14 senior players who have extended their contracts. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Steve Hansen's coaching regime has received its biggest endorsement to date, with 14 senior players, including Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg and Kieran Read, all extending their contracts in recent days.

Player retention is a constant battle and the national body's success in persuading key players to remain in New Zealand was critical to the World Cup victory and the achievements of the All Blacks this year.

Since 2008, the New Zealand Rugby Union has made retention of targeted assets a top priority and, other than Jerome Kaino and Sonny Bill Williams, they haven't lost a player whom they have particularly wanted to keep.

The NZRU became aggressive on the retention front after seeing a massive clean-out following the 2007 World Cup where a number of young players such as Luke McAlister, Aaron Mauger, Chris Jack and Carl Hayman decided to head overseas when they still had plenty to offer the national team.

There was a feeling then that a new trend of players heading offshore at a younger age could be about to damage the ability of the All Blacks to retain their incredible winning ratio.

As a result, the NZRU have become proactive in analysing who they want to keep, tend to talk to players earlier in the negotiation stage and have upped the financial rewards to those willing to stay loyal.

Dan Carter and Richie McCaw were the prime targets to lock in last year, while this year Smith, Dagg, Read and Sam Whitelock were the men deemed most critical to secure.

Smith, probably now the world's best centre and in the best form of an already illustrious career, has committed until 2014, as have Dagg, Piri Weepu, Tony Woodcock, Aaron Smith, Victor Vito and Hika Elliot.

"I love playing my footy here so was keen to extend my contract again," said Smith. "Given my number of years in the game, I was impressed with the way the process was handled and I look forward to the next few years in New Zealand."

Whitelock and Read as well as Andrew Hore, Ali Williams, Ma'a Nonu and Anthony Boric have re-signed through to the end of next year while Ben Franks has committed all the way until 2015.

With the exception of Adam Thomson, Hansen now has a degree of certainty and security that all of the players in his current squad and many of those in the wider training squad (which he announced in May) are committed to New Zealand until at least the end of next year - with more than half having signed until 2014.

That security allows him to plan and develop with a level of certainty about who is going to be available. The number of players willing to stay is also significant confirmation that Hansen is taking his team along the right track. Not only are the All Blacks unbeaten under their new coach, they have built a more laid back and enjoyable culture where players are relaxed yet focused.

Hansen, having been disappointed earlier in the year to lose Kaino and then Williams to Japan, said of the retentions: "Having that experience available will be essential in building this team beyond where it is at the moment and gives us confidence in going forward."

- Herald on Sunday

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