I think we can all agree that Richie McCaw is a rare breed of rugby player.

The man, who racked up 148 tests in the black jersey, still embodies the loyalty most people expect from sportspeople to have for their club and country.

Loyalty is an ideal held close to sport and can have both a great and terrible effect on the sporting experience, particularly in New Zealand. To remain loyal to a team or club is to show the ultimate level of moral fibre, sticking with your comrades through the good times and the bad.

However, should you decide to switch clubs for any reason, should the reasons be professional or personal, or you just want a change of scenery, it is seen as the absolute act of betrayal and is one of the many causes of the violent and nasty dialogue which infiltrates sport at all levels.


McCaw was a true example of the former. Staying with the All Blacks through thick and thin (mostly thick) until his career had run its course, retiring to the cheers of a satisfied nation and what will most likely be a knighthood in the next decade or so.

He seems the perfect man to address New Zealand rugby's impending crisis of player retention. As the man who saw the fern on his chest as enough of a reason to stay, surely he has the answer when it comes to convincing our up-and-coming talent to spend their career in New Zealand?

Almost as expected, McCaw has offered a solution that doesn't have me totally convinced.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, the All Black legend has simply said the aura of the jersey and the environment of the squad will be enough for our homegrown talent to want to stay that way, at home.

He admits that those who will go, will go and he would be naive not to. But this all hinges on the dominance of the All Black unit and the continuation of their success.

From all accounts from the rugby pundits looking into their oval-shaped crystal balls, the New Zealand rugby machine is breaking down. Players at a school and club rugby level are leaving the game in droves which many have protected, will inevitably impact the level our top team can reach.

Should the All Blacks decline in form, the vultures will circle. The pockets of northern hemisphere clubs seem to be growing deeper and deeper by the day. Japan has made great strides in rugby over the last five years and no one should underestimate their spending ability.

Even the Americans are ones to consider. There has been talk for years about their investments into rugby and while we haven't seen something of substance in the 15-a-side game, their improvement in the sevens format should be worrying at the very least.


Unjustifiably, the ones who often receive the most flack are the players who leave. They are subjected to the shame and disapproval associated with deserting the team which has given them so much, simply in the pursuit of money. Some would call him a normal, rational human-being looking our for his family's financial stability, but what would they know, he turned his back on the All Blacks and plotting with the enemy, most likely orchestrating our downfall.

The only example you need to understand this issue is Malakai Fekitoa. The 24-test midfielder now plays in Europe in an attempt to support almost 30 nieces and nephews all around the world. First of all, if that isn't an endearing characteristic akin to the loyalty of McCaw, I don't know what is.

Secondly, this will be the story of many rugby players around New Zealand. So often are the stories of talented rugby players from rough backgrounds who have struggled through the rugby ranks as part of a big family. As the money becomes more lucrative, you can hardly blame them for putting family above all else.

At the end of the day, this isn't a major problem now. Sure, the big guns of Retallick and Barrett are supposedly looking to join European ranks, but in my eyes, they've done their service to New Zealand rugby. There should be no criticism of their decision to move overseas simply to secure their future.

The real trouble will be in 10 or 20 years time, where the result of the NZ rugby machine breakdown will become evident as the resources in the north continue to rise. While I hope the aura of the jersey which McCaw speaks of persists through the ages, I believe it will take much more than just a warm and fuzzy feeling to keep our players on home shores.