New Zealand's soft underbelly in the player retention war has been exposed twice in recent weeks, first by Steven Luatua and now by James Lowe.

These so-called upper-mid-tier players - men who have five years-plus of Super Rugby experience and have either tasted or nearly tasted test football - are the ones New Zealand Rugby find hardest to protect from offshore predators.

It's been a problem for a while and probably will continue to be for a while longer, because there simply isn't enough money available in New Zealand to put compelling offers in front of everyone.

The Chiefs didn't want James Lowe to go. He brings them more than just finishing power on the wing.


He brings them an experienced voice in their backfield, a professional ethic that rubs off on others, and is the sort of presence and personality that all good teams need.

It took a few seasons to get him to this point and the Chiefs, having seen Lowe come good, want to get more out of their investment in him. He's still only 24 and could be a major contributor for many years yet.

But the Chiefs are limited in how much they can pay Lowe. They have to work within a budget that doesn't stretch anywhere near as far as they would like.

NZR steps in to top up the salaries of the All Black contingent, who also benefit from test match assembly fees, but there is no slush fund available for the likes of Lowe.

NZR, understandably, invests heavily in its senior players and the big names who are integral to the All Blacks' success - the likes of Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Ben Smith and Beauden Barrett - are the beneficiaries of the lion's share of the available money.

The emerging generation do quite well, too. The obvious next superstars, the likes of Damian McKenzie, Ardie Savea and Rieko Ioane, are well looked after.

And so it is the likes of Lowe and Luatua, who end up feeling the pinch and overseas clubs, have come to understand this.

Leinster, where Lowe will head after Super Rugby, were chasing Israel Dagg initially. They had money set aside to buy a versatile, high-calibre outside back form a foreign market.

Realistically, they were never going to have Dagg interested - which he was - without offering close to $NZ1 million a season.

Once he turned them down, Lowe presumably became their next choice and while he may not have been offered the same deal as Dagg, it probably won't be that far off and the difference between what he will earn in Ireland compared with New Zealand will be enormous.

Without being privy to the details, he's most likely going to earn at least three times as much in Ireland.

He may have long held the dream of one day playing for the All Blacks, but he's realistic enough to conclude that is increasingly looking unlikely.

He was in outstanding form last year and didn't earn the call up. Now he can see that the queue of talented wings has become longer with Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Dagg, Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo all competing for berths.

Once Leinster came knocking, it was a relatively easy, but emotionally-wrenching, decision for Lowe to make.

Others with similar experience will no doubt be picked off by offshore clubs in the next few weeks, which won't be symptomatic of any developing market trend - just continuation of business as usual.