A post-World Cup clearout remains on the cards but the volume of departures in 2011 is expected to be less than it was in 2007.

The worst-case scenario for the New Zealand Rugby Union is that they lose Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Brad Thorn, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Mils Muliaina and Joe Rokocoko at the end of next year.

All these players are off contract and all will be hunted by European clubs. There is confidence that McCaw will stay on, until at least 2012, while Nonu, too, could be persuaded to keep building his partnership with Conrad Smith.

Carter, who has been offered enormous money to play in France again after the World Cup, and Thorn, are seen as the two most likely to depart.

Having only extended his contract by one year through to the World Cup, Joe Rokocoko has kept his options open to move on at the end of 2011 and both Sivivatu and Muliaina know there are younger, faster wings and fullbacks coming through and that it will become increasingly hard for them to hold their starting spots.

Mealamu has previously said he'd be interested in a short-term overseas stint but the NZRU could make him a generous offer to stay given the lack of depth at hooker. The same option is open to Hore.

Whatever the final number of departures, it is almost certain there will be fewer than expected this time a year ago, which is going to make it hard for the national body to find the money to pay everyone what they think they deserve.

The pool of money available to pay players is linked to overall revenue. Previous World Cups have seen a clearout of senior personnel - removing a number of big salaries from the wage bill.

In 2007, six of the All Black World Cup squad - Carl Hayman, Byron Kelleher, Doug Howlett, Anton Oliver, Aaron Mauger and Luke McAlister - had already signed offshore deals before the tournament. Keith Robinson knew he would sign straight after the tournament.

Nick Evans, Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe, Reuben Thorne and Greg Somerville left mid-way through 2008, taking to 12 the number of World Cup All Blacks to come off the wage bill within nine months of the World Cup ending.

Other comparatively more moderate earners such as Rico Gear, Sam Tuitupou, Greg Rawlinson, Troy Flavell, Ross Filipo and Mose Tuiali'i left New Zealand either in 2007 or 2008.

The exodus hurt New Zealand in terms of the depth of talent they had available but it freed up the money to retain a senior core group such as McCaw, Carter, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Thorn, Mealamu, Muliaina, Nonu and Hore.

These players and others were rewarded with bigger contracts as an incentive for long-term commitments.

A similar surplus is unlikely to emerge in 2012. Already a host of key players such as Woodcock, Williams, Jerome Kaino, Tom Donnelly and Conrad Smith have committed to stay.

Under the terms of the player collective, almost 37 per cent of total New Zealand Rugby Union revenue is set aside to pay the players. The expectation late last year was that, while revenue was unlikely to increase to make the pot bigger, plenty would come off the bottom line due to heavier numbers of players leaving.

Once again the NZRU has exceeded targets with its retention drive.

Steve Tew, chief executive of the NZRU, says: "If you look at the top paid players in New Zealand, and they are also the most experienced, we have always projected a number of them will leave.

"I guess if more of them want to stay than we are predicting and we think they have a contribution still to make at All Black or franchise level, then fitting them in to the player payment pool will be a very positive problem to tackle.''

The NZRU hasn't imposed a deadline as such, but would be keen for all those coming off contract to sort out their post-World Cup futures in the early part of next year.

At the last World Cup there were a few players who were still tying down arrangements related to their impending offshore moves during the tournament. There was no concern about players being less committed because they knew they were leaving - but there was a sense of some players being distracted by trying to take care of last-minute logistics during the tournament.