More than half of the approximately 190 New Zealand players contracted to the country's five Super Rugby franchises will end up playing their rugby overseas. That is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the Herald's deep dive into New Zealand rugby's diaspora. Writer Kris Shannon and data journalist Chris Knox have tracked the careers of every player to lace on a boot in anger for New Zealand's five franchises in the post-1995 professional era. More than half of those who have played for one or more of the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders have left to play overseas.

We take a look at where our most potent All Blacks end up after they put away the black jersey

Each rugby career might follow a different trajectory but one thing has remained constant: a Super Rugby cap remains a powerful resume entry for those looking for offshore riches.

The data has highlighted other trends, including a surge in numbers leaving in World Cup years. In the past three World Cup cycles, significantly more players have left in 2007, 2011 and 2015 than in the years preceding them.

While players are leaving New Zealand through familiar departure lounges, the destination trends have changed.


In the early days of professionalism, England called loudest, before a shift to Japan and, more latterly, France.

Regardless, along with milk and meat, rugby players remain among New Zealand's most cherished exports.

When news breaks that yet another top-tier talent has been lured away by the yen or the euro, it can occasionally feel as though there are two types of Kiwi rugby player: those who have already played overseas and those who will one day make the move.

And while that's an exaggeration, it's not too far removed from the truth. An analysis by the Herald has found that more than half of professional rugby players in New Zealand have gone on to ply their trade offshore.

Since the dawn of professionalism in rugby was followed by the inception of Super 12 in 1996, we began by working from a list of every player to have made at least one appearance for a New Zealand Super Rugby franchise before the current season.

We then excluded those who had played professional rugby offshore before turning out for one of the Kiwi teams, to focus exclusively on the pathway from New Zealand to other countries.

We also excluded some foreign-born players, but not all. Like the general concept of being Kiwi, the definition of a Kiwi rugby player can be nebulous. We tried to limit our list to players who had attended at least a year of secondary school in New Zealand, but in rare cases, the information was difficult to find.

Altogether, that produced a final number of 929 players. And of those 929 players, 467 went directly from a New Zealand Super Rugby franchise to a professional club in another country.

Which means that 50.27 per cent of professional rugby players in this country have taken their talents to an overseas team.

Some are among the greatest to ever pull on an All Blacks jersey; others made one substitute appearance in Super Rugby. Some played a handful of games overseas; others become adopted heroes in far away places.

But as a whole, they represent one of New Zealand's most recognised and reliable exports.

In 2017 Aaron Cruden made the move from the Chiefs to Montpellier. Photo / Getty Images.
In 2017 Aaron Cruden made the move from the Chiefs to Montpellier. Photo / Getty Images.


When a glut of senior All Blacks inevitably announce impending moves offshore in a World Cup year, it's easy to mistake a short-term surge for a long-term trend.

Some fans will become concerned by the numbers heading for the departure lounge, worrying that the sheer amounts of money available overseas have finally broken the dam and New Zealand Rugby can no longer compete financially.

But, as the data shows, every four years there is a peak of player movement, before returning to typical levels once the World Cup cycle is complete.

The 30-player-a-year threshold was breached in 2007, 2011 and 2015 but none of those outliers was indicative of an extended exodus.

In fact, player movement had fallen each of the last three seasons, meaning there is no reason for fans to panic about the future of the domestic game.

Where are they going?

Unsurprisingly, England, Japan and France are by far the most common first destinations for a player looking to broaden their horizons - and make some cash.

England was the popular pick in the nascent days of professionalism, with an established domestic competition and a similar culture probably proving alluring to the early pioneers.

Japan began to battle England for supremacy at the turn of the century, and the more exotic choice was preferred by our players from 2010 to 2014, but it has since experienced a decline.

And that decline has coincided with the steady emergence of France as the chief importer of Kiwi talent, with an influx of euros in the Top 14 seeing wealthy clubs open their chequebooks for players from this part of the world.

Where are they coming from?

These charts show departing players who have represented one of the five franchises at any point before eventually heading overseas, meaning one player can count for multiple franchises' tallies in the year they leave.

The Crusaders have long been the dominant force in Super Rugby and perhaps one reason for their dominance is their ability to retain their talent.

The Highlanders have also exported fewer players than their counterparts while having the Hurricanes on the CV seems to be a consistent way to glean an offshore offer.

Dan Carter is one example of a veteran All Black who has gone abroad. Photo / Photosport
Dan Carter is one example of a veteran All Black who has gone abroad. Photo / Photosport

One-sub club

Among the 467 professional rugby players to be lured away from New Zealand, there is an elite club of 12 men who made a single substitute appearance in Super Rugby before forging an overseas career.

And they have been careers - these dozen players have combined to spend 67 seasons playing offshore, good for an average of 5.6 per member.

The captain of this club must be Samoa first-five Tusi Pisi, who made a solitary appearance for the Crusaders in 2007 before embarking on an 11-season overseas journey that took him to France, Japan and England - and even, briefly, back to New Zealand.