Faced with an increasingly heated offshore market that is supremely determined and well-equipped to snare fringe and emerging All Blacks, the New Zealand Rugby has opted to defend itself not with ingenuity or radical new ploys but instead has opted for stunning arrogance.

The world's richest and most powerful rugby clubs must be part hysterically amused, part affronted that New Zealand Rugby believes it can appoint itself as some kind of regulatory force in the global transfer market.

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But however preposterous it sounds, NZR is seemingly convincing itself that it will be able to create a network of pre-approved clubs around the world where it will be able to send certain players on sanctioned contracts.


NZR believes it can effectively award its own seal of approval to those organisations it feels can be trusted to uphold the national body's expectations in regard to player welfare, training loads and duty of care.

Player retention has been New Zealand's toughest and highest priority challenge since the game turned professional more than 20 years ago. The war is never won - there are only periods when it feels like New Zealand is winning - and in the last 12 months that hasn't been the case.

Charlie Faumuina, Aaron Cruden, Steven Luatua, Brad Shields, Lima Sopoaga, Charlie Ngatai and Seta Tamanivalu have all opted to give up playing in New Zealand and the possibility of winning test caps, to sign highly lucrative offshore contracts.

Charlie Faumuina, Malakai Fekitoa and Aaron Cruden have all departed NZ shores. Photo / Photosport
Charlie Faumuina, Malakai Fekitoa and Aaron Cruden have all departed NZ shores. Photo / Photosport

NZR wanted them all to stay but were virtually powerless to compete - unable in any case to offer remotely the same financial returns. Such a state of affairs has left NZR feeling metaphorically impotent and their search for a cure has taken them back to an old idea of trying to work with rather than against the offshore market.

They have adopted an almost fatalistic outlook, believing that significant numbers of players are going to leave and therefore it may be better to try to build an offshore component into some domestic contracts.

In practice, that means NZR want to strike partnerships with a handful of offshore clubs that will allow the national body to send certain players for one or maybe two seasons with the guarantee they will return home and resume their respective careers in New Zealand.

Call it an extended sabbatical, a rugby OE, a pension fund accelerator or whatever - but the objective is to control a free market: allow players to leave for a defined period and have a pre-determined date, plan and contract in place for when they will return.

NZR also want some influence and input into how these players will be used and managed while they are offshore.

The arrogance of this sits on multiple levels. The first and most galling part is the notion of NZR determining which clubs meet their approval. Surely diversity is to be celebrated in rugby and is the sport's major strength? NZR, though, appear to feel some need to homogenise the game, have everyone adopt a 'Kiwi' approach to training, skill development, workloads and culture.

Todd Blackadder is one of a number of Kiwis coaching abroad. Photo / Photosport
Todd Blackadder is one of a number of Kiwis coaching abroad. Photo / Photosport

It will sanction players leaving, but only to clubs where there might be a New Zealand coach or a defined sense of things being done a 'Kiwi' way.

The bit that is hardest to stomach is this subliminal message that New Zealand doesn't have anything to learn from any other nation.

No one from head office in Wellington appears to believe that a New Zealand player could advance their development and learn valuable skills at an offshore club that hasn't been vetted and approved by NZR.

Having dug deep into their personal fortunes and in most cases being driven by insanely large egos, overseas club owners are unlikely to respond well to the prospect of NZR officials meddling in their affairs.

Once an owner has forked out for star talent, they will, rightly, use it whichever way they like. Last time anyone checked, NZR don't own or run professional rugby beyond their own borders and it is patently silly to believe that the national body could enter an entente cordial with professional clubs.

Their respective goals are neither aligned nor compatible.

And above all else, what makes least sense, is NZR entering into agreements that lock in a commitment so far into the future. Two years is an age in professional rugby and it may not be good business for NZR to have to take certain players back after their overseas stint.

Remember Luke McAlister? He left in 2007 for Sale when he was just 24 and NZR were desperate to have him back in 2009, so offered him an exceptional package.

Luke McAlister is a prime example of why NZR's new plan won't work. Photo / Photosport
Luke McAlister is a prime example of why NZR's new plan won't work. Photo / Photosport

But their due diligence had been lacking - McAlister was half the player on his return and when he left New Zealand again in 2011 after two unproductive seasons, it served as a warning that the past served as no guide to the present and that there is inherent risk repatriating players no matter how good they had been before they left.

This regulated world which NZR envisages is almost certainly never going to materialise. A market is either free or its not and nothing will change the fundamentals which are that New Zealand offers less money but more opportunity while the offshore clubs bring more money but less opportunity.

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