COMMENT:

Those of us from a certain era will find the furore over the St Kents first XV recruitment policy astonishing.

Not because it's happening. But that there is any sort of surprise and outrage at all. When I was growing up in the '70s and '80s, my dad perpetuated the myth that rugby players played for passion and the love of the game.

Unlike league players, who were, in my dad's eyes, mercenaries. Rugby was all that was good about the New Zealand man. Players were tough, uncompromising, fair and manly.

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A good game was forwards toughing it out in the scrums and the rucks and a rolling maul. Backs were flighty and not to be trusted and if you passed the ball or kicked it away you were a coward. It was a simple, black and silver fern view of the world and one that would be shattered with the Springbok tour of '81 and then the Cavaliers tour of '85.

I know Dad found the Cavaliers tour confusing - but he died so young we never had the chance to have all the conversations I thought we would when we were both grown up.

Men he greatly admired as rugby players were behaving dishonourably - rumours abounded that the Cavaliers were being paid to tour South Africa.

The Cavaliers were made up of 30 All Blacks selected to tour South Africa minus John Kirwan and David Kirk. The official tour was cancelled due to a legal ruling that it would be incompatible with the NZ Rugby Union's purpose of fostering and encouragement of the game.

They decided to tour South Africa anyway. I'm sure some of them genuinely believed that sport and politics shouldn't mix. But the rumoured pay-offs would have helped.

On their return from an unsuccessful tour, the players faced a backlash from the public and the NZRFU. The tourists were slammed with a two-test ban and a group of younger players was selected to wear the Silver Fern.

The Baby Blacks, as they became known, were good, and many of the established players struggled to get their spots back. Some never did. And die-hard fans like Dad were forced to accept that sometimes money meant more than the game.

Had he been willing to see what was in front of his nose the tour wouldn't have been such an affront to him. Good players were looked after by their communities. Great players never had to pay for a beer or a meal in the towns they grew up in. But it wasn't always enough.

Some were lured away to other clubs and towns through offers of houses and money for businesses and cars. It's rumoured that some of our greatest All Blacks in recent time only stayed in New Zealand because of privately funded contracts.

Money - below the counter in the past; above it more recently - has always been a part of rugby - and St Kents' policy of offering a gold-plated boarding experience for young men who can bolster their first XV is just following in a time-honoured but hush hush way of growing great rugby teams.

Schools and clubs and provinces have been doing it since forever ago, as far as I was aware. Now it's all out in the open.

These days, rugby is a career for young men and women. Talented young people are aggressively headhunted in this country by colleges and universities both here and overseas. It's the way of the world. I'm not saying it's right but it's just the way it is.

Growing up in small, provincial towns, I would have jumped at the chance to escape sooner than I did. I made it to the big smoke eventually - but it took a lot of hard graft.

A springboard through a scholarship would have been fabulous. Don't patronise young men who parlay their strengths into advantages. Or demonise schools who, to all intents and purposes, played by the rules.

Talented rugby players, who have had any brains at all, have always tried to optimise their skills. You don't take that sort of physical punishment for some musty school credo.

Everyone uses their skills and talents to pursue a better future. Why should young rugby players be any different?