Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Money may leave us short changed

Julian Savea's future is in doubt. Photo / Getty Images
Julian Savea's future is in doubt. Photo / Getty Images

For lots of reasons, it will be best if Julian Savea sticks with the Hurricanes rather than shift to - it is believed - the Crusaders, who are chasing him hard.

There is an uneasiness that the player market here is about to change; the introduction of private equity and third party deals will see money become a determining factor in where players end up.

To date, it has been rare in New Zealand for franchises to bid and counter-bid for established All Blacks. There has been a limit - $180,000 - on what franchises can spend and it is the New Zealand Rugby Union who top up the payments. The cynics will doubt it but players in New Zealand have made their decisions about their franchise based on the quality of the coaching available and their likelihood of game time.

That might be changing. Now there is private investment in some of the franchises, they have the capacity to go beyond the $180,000 limit. Players will still be largely driven by coaching and game time but money may become the factor that tips the balance.

It's inevitable that the deal Savea has been offered to leave is better than the one he has to stay, in straight financial terms. That's the danger; money hasn't been a factor until now because it couldn't be. Because of that, there has almost been a gentleman's agreement in place about stealing big-name players off each other. The player market has been predominantly stable here in terms of big-name talent. To understand why New Zealand should keep it that way, take a look at Australia, where the culture is the antithesis of the market here.

The star men there sit back and wait for every franchise to knock their door down. Money is usually the determining factor of where a frontline Wallaby will end up. The offers get played off against each other and then the highest bidder wins. It doesn't have great success, though. No one seems to last long at any particular franchise.

James O'Connor was going to save the Rebels. Now he's been axed and needs to save himself. Kurtley Beale ditto - two years in Melbourne were all he managed. A culture where players are out for themselves and moving around for money will inevitably not help foster the values, ethics and depth of commitment needed in the professional game.

The All Blacks have their doubts about the humility and character of the Wallaby players and the public, elongated and over-the-top battles for the best players probably don't help. Egos get inflated and priorities get warped - there has to be some element of the soul attached to the jersey.

New Zealand is best well out of that. The offshore market is there to take care of those who want to play for money. Here, it needs to be realised that New Zealand teams have won 12 Super Rugby titles between them on the strength of their respective cultures.

The difference between the sides is always minimal, hard to pick. The intangibles such as strength of feeling, passion for the franchise and commitment to the cause have been major advantages for New Zealand sides over the years.

Everyone needs to be a little wary about where things are at right now. The system has worked well so far. As proof of that: how many players have left the Crusaders for another New Zealand franchise? The answer to that question may be a lot different in five years.

- Herald on Sunday

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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