Not so long ago, lineout lifting and substitutions were scowled at. Then it was the rugby raiders, those foreign clubs or other codes who came waving weighty cheques to tempt All Blacks.

We may not approve of rugby's evolution but we have moved with the law and style changes. But have we got used to the export-player business?

In the early 1990s, there was shock when rugby lost Matthew Ridge, Craig Innes, John Timu, John Gallagher and Va'aiga Tuigamala to league.

Consternation grew when the All Blacks Club was unable to keep other national representatives such as Arran Pene, Graeme Bachop and Kevin Schuler from scooting off to Japan.

Later, other All Blacks such as Jamie Joseph, Shane Howarth, Richard Turner, Richard Fromont, Liam Barry, Lee Stensness, Blair Larsen, Simon Mannix, Ian Jones, Zinzan Brooke, Glen Osborne, Alama Ieremia, Josh Kronfeld and Walter Little shot through.

With each departure there was the hand-wringing about the need for New Zealand to keep such players, but never any solution.

Similar remarks have been made about the departures of Bruce Reihana, Daryl Gibson and Royce Willis, and there will be more as some players miss Super 12 squads or the All Blacks' end-of-year tour.

But those departing are making practical choices. They have held out long enough in an attempt to fulfil their dreams and know that if they do not leave now, their contract price will be severely diminished in the crowded market after next year's World Cup.

New Zealand is geographically and financially isolated.

It cannot compete with the monetary clout of large companies who fund rugby in Japan or the wealthy clubs in Europe. It can offer the lure of an All Black jersey and a substantial salary if someone is a test regular.

However, players who are Super 12 and NPC regulars, but only fringe internationals, can more than triple their wages overseas.

The attraction of an All Black jersey, that almost mythical status, lasts only so long. Some, such as Waikato skipper Deon Muir or former Counties skipper Errol Brain, hold out longer than others. They have their reasons, while others, such as former Auckland skipper Paul Thomson, disappear rapidly.

The rugby export business is little different from the brain drain.

It is a great time for sportsmen to use their skills, to experience different cultures and set themselves up financially for the rest of their lives.

The only surprising thing is that so many resist overseas offers. Players are making practical decisions instead of emotional choices. Times are changing.

It is tough on provinces and there is no apparent solution to stem the bleeding. It is the reality of professional sport that players have limited time to exploit their skills.

There are those who can stay in New Zealand and be strongly rewarded; others who want to combine rugby and a career; some who will be left with memories, a head full of what-ifs and a wardrobe full of rugby jerseys; and those who return from overseas set up for life.

While it can be tough on the provinces, All Black departures usually offer a worthy solution. Remember the angst when superb flanker Kronfeld grabbed his kit and left for Leicester? Richard McCaw has been a pretty useful replacement, hasn't he?