Super Rugby's imminent return to New Zealand shores brings with it confusion as to why some returning stars have re-committed to local teams and yet others are not.
Nehe Milner-Skudder and Sam Whitelock are back to heighten anticipation for the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, starting next month.
Brodie Retallick, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty among others are back in the country, too, but not expected to suit up. And while not seeking a New Zealand contract until next season, Julian Savea has announced intentions to return from France.
Why can't all players returning from lucrative excursions to the safe havens of home be swiftly ushered into the five franchises to immediately enhance the quality of the derby competition?
As usual money, or in this case insurance, is the bottom line. The Herald understands insurance costs are in the tens of thousands for each player contracted abroad. These agreements can take months to negotiate, even for a 10-week competition.
Romanticism strikes at the heart of Ben Smith returning from France to again dash in from the backfield and put team-mates in space with effortless ease.
As a homegrown lad, Highlanders centurion and favourite son of the south, Smith would no doubt love nothing more than to run out under the Dunedin roof for Super Rugby Aotearoa's opening-round match on June 13 against the Chiefs.
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Unfortunately in Smith's case, the Herald understands that vision is unlikely to eventuate.
Milner-Skudder, Whitelock and Savea are different from other returning All Blacks in that they no longer have overseas commitments.
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Having signed with the Highlanders for the Aotearoa competition and the 2021 season, Milner-Skudder will no longer join Toulon on the three-year deal he inked in late 2018 before serious shoulder injuries stalled his career.
Likewise Whitelock is now fully committed to New Zealand rugby after the Japanese Top League season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Savea, too, has finished his turbulent Toulon deal and signalled interest in re-joining the Hurricanes, another New Zealand franchise or switching to the Warriors from next year.
Other high-profile All Blacks such as Retallick, Smith, Naholo and Crotty have longer-term deals to fulfill abroad.
Smith is understood to be under contract to join Retallick and Aaron Cruden at Wayne Smith's dominant Japanese Kobe Steel side as direct import replacements for Dan Carter and Andy Ellis.
The insurance costs associated with covering the salaries of existing contracts such as Ben Smith's - and Naholo's at London Irish - is significant.
Outside his salary, the Chiefs are understood to have paid $12,000 in insurance to cover Cruden's Kobe contract.
New Zealand Super Rugby franchises, many of whom are now making redundancies and struggling to pay their venue and wage bills, don't have the capital to splurge on these hefty insurance costs.
From a risk perspective, there is no upside for Naholo or Smith to re-join their beloved Highlanders.
As much as they would love the chance to represent a jersey they deeply care about, the reality of doing so would jeopardise future earnings that will set their families up for life.
Smith is 33 and likely contemplating the final stint of his career in Japan.
Late additions to New Zealand squads, including Milner-Skudder and Whitelock, for the Aotearoa competition stand to earn $1800 per-week – pittance compared to deals abroad which frequently nudge the $1 million per-season mark.
Cruden's case is different again in that he has been ensconced in the Chiefs squad since the start of the season, with his wage factored into pre-Christmas budgets. He then only needed approval from Kobe to extend his stay in Hamilton.
Chiefs chief executive Michael Collins confirmed the insurance complications facing returning players.
"With these guys the onus is on the Super Rugby club to insure them so if they get injured during our competition it won't affect their contract with the club they're going to next," Collins said.
"It's quite hard to insure these players. There's not many providers around the world. In fact when we went through the exercise to cover Aaron negotiating the deal was fairly straightforward but it probably took six to eight weeks to negotiate the insurance policy."
After several injuries to their forward pack the Chiefs approached Retallick about joining them for the Aotearoa competition but he preferred to continue his sabbatical after purchasing a house in the Hawke's Bay.
"With Aaron we are really happy to insure him because of the value he delivers," Collins said. "He's given so much to the Chiefs over the years and when he came back close to six months ago now he's been outstanding in the environment as a player and leader to help bring the young guys through so we were excited when he offered to stay until the end of Aotearoa."
The other factor in this equation is New Zealand teams can only swap members of their existing 38-man squads under the injury replacement guidelines, with each addition needing sign-off from the national body.
Longer term, Collins expects the flood of returning players from previously big spending European leagues to change the local contracting landscape.
"It's going to be a really interesting trend as we watch what happens in the French league and the Premiership. We know the Japanese Top League is always going to have an appetite for those world-class All Blacks but potentially we could see the just under the top tier of players come back into Super Rugby.
"I know from a recruitment perspective we're doing work and talking to a lot of players that have been here and may have represented the All Blacks and then gone away. No doubt all the other clubs are in that space as well."