Irish accused of aiding All Black defections
April 17, 2011
All Blacks prop John Afoa has agreed to join Irish side Ulster © Getty Images
The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) are growing increasingly exasperated with the pursuit of their top players by Irish provinces and accused the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) of aiding All Black defections.
Ulster are believed to have offered All Black prop John Afoa and Blues midfielder Jared Payne deals worth in excess of NZ$750,000 (£367,000) and the NZRU fear that there could be further losses to Ireland announced in the coming weeks.
Crusaders' understudy fly-half Matt Berquist has agreed to join Leinster and Cory Jane is being linked with a move to Ulster while the Blues' Benson Stanley is being touted as a possible replacement for Sale-bound Sam Tuitupou at Munster according to reports.
The deals for Afoa and Payne were done with the blessing of the Irish Rugby Football Union, which has further incensed the NZRU following discussions between the two unions in the summer over the increasing threat of the purchasing power of the French Top 14.
"The disappointing thing is that if the numbers we are led to believe that have been put on the table by Ulster, and therefore the Irish Rugby Union, are accurate, it is a shame," NZRU chief executive Steve Tew told the New Zealand Herald.
"The Irish are certainly one union we have talked to previously about the way the French system corrupts the market. Now we find in our situation the Irish are out-pricing us.
"Losing Jared Payne is annoying, as is losing Johnny. He [Afoa] is a world class player and would continue to make an incredibly valuable contribution to Blues and New Zealand rugby for a long time. But he's at a junction of his life and he's made his decision and he goes with our blessing.
"Our sense of it is that the international market is not as strong as it was. That's why it [Ulster's recruitment] is a wee bit annoying. We have been talking with the Irish and when they were out here in June last year, it was 'woe is me because the French are buggering up Irish rugby'."
The southern hemisphere unions traditionally face a challenge to keep their top talent after World Cups as players look to cash-in with lucrative moves to Europe. And the SANZAR unions are again struggling to tie-down their star players to contracts beyond this year's tournament with the purchasing power of the French Top 14 clubs proving particularly attractive to players.
"At the end of the day, we will lose some players we wanted to keep," said Tew on the battle to tie players in. "We always have and we always will. Because the New Zealand dollar is so high, we are not getting as many dollars out of our existing commercial arrangements as we predicted - so that is putting more pressure on at our end.
"Over the last two or three years, we have had a reasonable amount of success around player retention. But ultimately there are cycles where the pressure becomes a bit greater."
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