Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Players packing their bags

Jimmy Cowan is believed to be heading to Gloucester. Photo / Getty Images
Jimmy Cowan is believed to be heading to Gloucester. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks could be staring at yet another major clear-out with almost a third of their World Cup squad in danger of moving on before the year is out.

Jerome Kaino has confirmed his move to Japan with Piri Weepu and Sonny Bill Williams the next highest profile names scouting the globe for new options.

Weepu and Williams are both off contract this year and the former is being touted around Europe. The 28-year-old has been reluctant to move in the past despite attractive offers.

It is thought he'll be willing to shift offshore this time if he can find the right deal. He's believed to be asking for A-list money - a mega-bucks deal that will help set him up for life.

So far interest is thought to have been lukewarm, with several of the biggest paying clubs in France - notably Perpignan, Biarritz and Bayonne - all locked in a relegation battle and therefore uncertain about their future revenue.

Perpignan, who are looking for a new halfback to replace the under-performing Florian Cazanave, are believed to have had Weepu high on their wish list, but reports suggest they are now chasing "cheaper" options.

Once the picture becomes clearer in France in the next few weeks, it is expected that recruitment will pick up and bigger contracts will be offered.

If the right deal isn't forthcoming from Europe, Weepu will have to decide whether to accept less money or determine his options in New Zealand.

The Blues would likely keep him but it is thought there is interest elsewhere - probably from the Highlanders.

Williams is attempting much the same ploy as Weepu, but is hoping to make himself the best paid player in the NRL next year.

Speculation is rife that the Roosters just about have him over the line but Williams' desire to box may be a deal-breaker.

Williams spoke last week about his contentment at the Chiefs and the flexibility he's offered by the New Zealand Rugby Union may yet see him stay here.

While Williams is not thought to be among the top earners in New Zealand in terms of the retainer he's paid, he does earn close to $1m from his boxing and has a deal with Powerade.

His desire to box is not just about money either - he wants to become the heavyweight champion of the world. Jimmy Cowan is on the verge of signing with Gloucester who are fearful they will lose Scotland halfback Rory Lawson to Perpignan (he was also on their wish list and comes at an affordable price).

Weepu and Cowan both made their test debuts in 2004 and the latter especially has been falling down the pecking order.

At 30, and not even the preferred No 9 at the Highlanders, the time would appear right for Cowan to move to the West Country.

Isaia Toeava has an offer to play in Japan which he is likely to take if his hip surgery is successful.

Still only 26, Toeava has been an All Black for seven seasons without establishing himself as a starting player.

He is ready for a new challenge. Weepu, Williams, Toeava and Cowan are on the serious list - genuinely looking at offshore offers with intentions to leave.

If they go, that would take to eight the number of World Cup All Blacks no longer eligible - Brad Thorn, Mils Muliaina and John Afoa left last year. That wouldn't be too dissimilar to the last World Cup, after which 12 squad members had left by the end of 2008.

That was a major contributing factor in the All Blacks struggling in 2009, losing four games in their first eight fixtures.

On the vulnerable list are Ali Williams and Tony Woodcock who are both coming off contract this year. Williams is adamant he will only look elsewhere if he's told he's not wanted here.

"I couldn't care less what other people say. I guess I'm at the point where people are probably saying it's time to retire... but that's bullshit. I love playing here and I want to keep playing here."

The uncertainty, of course, is whether he'll still be wanted. His form to date doesn't merit test selection and there are a number of emerging locks.

Woodcock is similar to Williams in that he's never flirted with the offshore market. He gave a reminder of his class last week when he returned to action and buckled the Hurricanes scrum.

Having had a prolonged recuperation period since the World Cup and still only 31, Woodcock will be conscious he has 83 test caps and can crack the century.

The Blues will be doing what they can to influence Woodcock and Williams to stay. They are likely to lose Weepu and also Chris Lowrey who is thought to be heading to Japan.

Benson Stanley is believed to be in talks with Clermont. Rene Ranger is off contract and nor is it clear what Ma'a Nonu intends to do in 2012 - although he will be playing in New Zealand.

- Herald on Sunday

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