In the professional rugby era we accept, and in most cases applaud, All Blacks heading to France to capitalise on their talent.

Clubs offer generous financial rewards to top players over a handful of seasons. They return home with cash, and an overseas experience, in the bank.

Before the game shed its amateur cloak in the mid-1990s, All Blacks played the odd off-season in France.

Examples included Andy Haden at Tarbes, Murray Mexted at Agen and Graham Mourie at the Paris Universite Club. Richard Loe famously got the call-up from the Lyon club to make his international debut against the French Barbarians in 1986.


As New Zealand prepare to play France this weekend, the Herald spoke to two All Blacks who opted to stay.

Mike Clamp and Rob Gordon picked up jobs, families and a lifelong love for French life.

Clamp based himself in Biarritz with wife Sylvie and they had three children. He played 15 matches for New Zealand, including two tests, as a three-quarter during 1984-85 and spent five seasons playing in France.

In recent years, Clamp sold his interests in a number of surf shops to Quiksilver. He now splits his time between France and New Zealand.

"In 1986 I went on the Cavaliers tour, missed the All Blacks end-of-year tour to France but came over and played anyway," the 55-year-old says.

"I had always wanted to play in South Africa, but knew there would be consequences. It became a turning point in my life."

Clamp was contacted by French fullback Serge Blanco, asking him whether he fancied playing at his club, Biarritz Olympique.

"I thought 'why not?' I didn't speak French so bought one of those Berlitz books at Auckland airport. I was trying to learn but the blimin' stuff went in one ear and out the other. The rugby boys tried to give me directions - pass left, go right, run straight, cut on an angle - but it was a nightmare.

"Naturally they taught me the filthy words first which I went about repeating, thinking they were something else. People would look aghast at social functions.

"There were a lot of 'Excusez-moi?' moments and I'd be like 'oh geez, the buggers got me again'. I was an easy target."

Gordon came across for the 1988-89 season courtesy of a word-of-mouth deal organised by former All Black Graham Purvis. One of the clubs in his region were looking for a loose forward.

Within two years Gordon returned as an All Black on the 1990 tour, alongside brother Steve. He played three games but could not make the squad again. He accepted a club offer from the US Colomiers club in Toulouse, after missing selection for the 1991 World Cup.

"Rugby was amateur but they offered a good deal, providing flights to and from New Zealand, accommodation and a vehicle," the 52-year-old says.

"A lot of expenses were covered, even though you weren't officially paid.

"I went to a French language school and took on a part time job with the company which is now Airbus France. Everyone had jobs, trained twice a week, then played on Saturdays or Sundays so there were few comparisons with today."

Unlike Clamp, Gordon experienced the fledgling professional game. He played for Toshiba in Japan for five seasons and represented their national side in 17 tests, including three at the 1999 World Cup.

He returned to France in 2001 so his wife Valerie could pursue her business interests and their two children could grow up. After completing an MBA, Gordon returned to Airbus in 2004. He has been there since.

"I change positions every three to five years. I'm involved in flight hours services at the moment, providing spare parts for the company."

He says the key to mastering French life is getting to a point where you can converse socially.

"That helps you understand the culture better. Take a barbecue: in New Zealand you mightn't think much of cooking up a few sausages and steaks but in France, because of the fascination with cuisine, they'll go the next step and ask what the ingredients are in the sausages, how the marinade for the steak was made and where the wine came from.

"The detail is incredible and the people are so passionate about enjoying things rather than just surviving."

Both former All Blacks agree it helped seeing French life from the inside out within local families.

"There was a culture shock as a simple, raw Kiwi going into this refined, sophisticated culture, but I lapped it up," Clamp says.

"Thirty years later I find it hard to speak English sometimes.

"Growing up in Petone I always said I wanted to live at a beautiful beach and surf every day. And it happened. Then, in the winters I'd pop up to snowboard in the Pyrenees. I didn't bother living anywhere else.

"I could see the buzz these surfers were on and the lifestyle Quiksilver was trying to sell when they set up here. They gave me the opportunity to do some retail [from 1992], and, as a rugby player, I had some contacts.

"If you're in business you've got to try to enjoy it and make some money, but I wanted to make a lifestyle out of it as well."