28 Aug 2018

Sir Brian Lochore warns against top players leaving NZ

8:26 pm on 28 August 2018

Former All Black captain and coach Sir Brian Lochore agrees more needs to be done to retain elite rugby players in this country.

Sir Brian Lochore

Former All Black Captain Sir Brian Lochore has spoken Photo: Photosport

After a slew of top players were offered to play overseas, New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew was prompted to controversially suggest that the government should pitch in players' wages to keep top All Blacks from going overseas.

The All Blacks first-five Beauden Barrett has reportedly been offered $3.5 million a year to join a French club after next year's World Cup.

However, Sir Brian said any government help should be restricted to the elite players.

"You know there are some players who are very special to New Zealand rugby but they are also very special to New Zealand," Sir Brian said.

"If they go overseas because they get a better offer and at the height of their career, they are lost to us and I think it is a danger and damaging thing for New Zealand."

The government sponsored a lot of sports in New Zealand but it did not give a lot to rugby because it was reasonably financial, he said.

"But when talking about the top players, it's very difficult for the rugby union to consistently match the people from overseas."

In the 2017 financial year ending December, the rugby union's total income was $257m, helped by the Lions series. Expenditure was $223m, ending with a profit of $33m.

The union already received some government money. Last year it totalled $4.4m, which included $2m from High Performance Sport and nearly $600,000 from Sport New Zealand.

At the same time he said he had no problem with players leaving the country in the twilight of their careers.

"I see that as a chance for building superannuation really."

New Zealand Rugby Players Association chief executive Rob Nichol said he had no doubt the top level of the game in New Zealand was under threat.

"New markets are opening up in America, in Europe, the French market is particularly really buoyant and I guess we are just really conscious that we are going to need everything we can conjure up to help us maintain our position," Mr Nichol said.

The idea of government investment was about more than just throwing money at the problem because it required a plan of attack, he said.

"It is about getting an alignment around where the challenges are and what you would be trying to achieve," he said.

"Looking at options in terms of trying to deliver that, whether it be a straight cheque or other kind of mechanisms that can offer incentives, not just All Blacks but other athletes to ply their trade in New Zealand as opposed to taking their abilities offshore."

Mr Nichol said New Zealand should take a leaf out of Ireland's tax book as an incentive model for players to stay in this country and to retire here.

"If you apply that to New Zealand as a young rugby player, if I play in New Zealand and I stay in New Zealand and I retire in New Zealand I can actually go back and for a maximum of 10 years," he said.

"I can get a tax rebate on the tax I have paid where I have earned a disproportionately large amount of my income in the early years."

Prime Minister Jacinda Adern said public support had always been forthcoming for rugby, but dismissed suggestions the taxpayer would fund player retention.

Jill Brinson is the founder of a brand-performance agency called Tricky.

She described the All Blacks as a huge lightning-rod for the New Zealand brand, but any investment in the players would need to have a return.

"We have to then look at who we attract into this country and are they really all coming for the rugby and is it all about the rugby," Ms Brinson said.

"I'm unsure that that would be the best investment our government could make in fostering our reputation in the market place."

The All Black brand was loved furiously because this was the little country that could, Ms Brinson said.

"We have these guys who are not paid like elite sportsman and we still hit above our weight and that is a huge part of what the All Black brand is about," she said.

"The All Black brand lives or dies beyond any individual."

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