Wielding their cheque books, clubs in the northern hemisphere have plundered Super Rugby in recent years.

The lucrative deals have offered players the opportunity to provide for their families toward the back end of their careers, while for some Kiwis it provides a more fruitful situation if an All Blacks jersey seems out of reach.

But times are changing, and now the European powerhouses are coming for Super Rugby's young stars.


Already the Blues have lost 25-year-old fullback Melani Nanai to Worcester, while the Crusaders have lost Jordan Taufua to Leicester a year after the 27-year-old had cracked into the All Blacks set up.

In South Africa, the Bulls will be saying goodbye to superstar No 10 and Super Rugby's leading scorer Handre Pollard as the 25-year-old has committed to joining Montpellier, while the Sharks will see the du Preez brothers Robert, Jean-Luc and Dan, all of whom are 25 or younger, leave to join Sale.

It's not just the European clubs coming in search of players, though. Japan have also come to the party and lured players away, including All Blacks lock Jackson Hemopo.

Sharks No.10 Robert du Preez has agreed to join Sale next season. Photo / Getty Images
Sharks No.10 Robert du Preez has agreed to join Sale next season. Photo / Getty Images

For the Kiwi players still hoping to pull on the black jersey, having to remain in New Zealand to represent the country has seen the Kiwi Super Rugby franchises boom. So much so that the competition seems to have morphed from a once open playing field to teams playing as many as 19 matches before a Kiwi team is crowned the winner.

And with Super Rugby clubs now losing some of their best young stars, that trend doesn't look like it's going to end any time soon. Already 41 Super Rugby players have agreed to leave the competition behind them for deals in Europe or Japan after the 2019 season with only the Chiefs and Sunwolves yet to lose players to deals abroad.

Fan interest in Super Rugby is already declining due to the Crusaders and Hurricanes' continued domination of the competition and the structure of the points table – in which the top teams in each conference take out the top three spots regardless of their points totals.

Should more of the competition's biggest draw cards be lost to the north, Sanzaar might struggle to continue promoting Super Rugby as a competition as much as a practice ground for All Blacks.

South African star Handre Pollard will head to France to continue his career. Photo / Getty Images
South African star Handre Pollard will head to France to continue his career. Photo / Getty Images

And even then, losing quality young players from the Australian and South African conferences does New Zealand Rugby no favours as the level of competition decreases as more players leave.

New Zealand players with All Blacks aspirations will remain on Kiwi shores as long as it's a requirement to reach the international stage, and the Kiwi derbies will always be tough, physical encounters. But should the other conferences be fleeced of their top talents, there could come a time where Super Rugby is not the right environment to continue to growth of top Kiwi players.

Super Rugby confirmed player losses for 2020


Santiago Garcia Botta, Martin Landajo (Harlequins), Tomas Lavanini (Leicester), Pablo Matera (Stade Francais)

Brumbies: Rory Arnold (Toulouse), Sam Carter (Ulster)

Reds: Scott Higginbotham (Bordeaux), Duncan Paia'aua (Toulon), Sefa Naivalu (Stade Francais), Samu Kerevi (Suntory Sungoliath)

Lions: Stephan Lewies (Harlequins)

Crusaders: Jordan Taufua (Leicester), Owen Franks (Northampton), Sam Whitelock (Sabbatical) (Panasonic Wild Knights), Kieran Read (Toyota Verblitz), Ryan Crotty (Kubota Spears)

Waratahs: Curtis Rona, Nick Phipps, Sekope Kepu (London Irish)

Highlanders: Waisake Naholo (London Irish), Jackson Hemopo (Mitsubishi DynaBoars), Ben Smith and Luke Whitelock (Pau), Liam Squire (NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes), Matt Faddes (Ulster)

Rebels: Adam Coleman (London Irish)

Hurricanes: Matt Proctor (Northampton), Jeff Toomaga-Allen (Wasps), Sam Lousi (Scarlets), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Toulon)

Sharks: Robert de Preez, Akker van der Merwe, Coenie Oosthuizen, Dan du Preez (loan), Jean-Luc du Preez (loan) (Sale)

Bulls: Lood de Jager (Sale), Eli Snyman (Benetton), Handre Pollard (Montpellier)

Blues: Melani Nanai, Matt Moulds (Worcester)

Stormers: Eben Etzebeth (Toulon)

Players younger than 28 leaving Super Rugby


Eli Snyman, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez.

24-year-olds: Duncan Paia'aua.

25-year-olds: Melani Nanai, Handre Pollard, Robert du Preez, Jackson Hemopo, Samu Kerevi, Pablo Matera.

26-year-olds: Matt Proctor, Lood de Jager, Curtis Rona, Santiago Garcia Botta, Tomas Lavanini.

27-year-olds: Eben Etzebeth, Matt Moulds, Jordan Taufua, Akker van der Merwe, Sam Lousi, Adam Coleman, Matt Faddes, Stephan Lewies, Sefa Naivalu.