25 Apr

The Carter Clause
by Tracey Nelson
25 Apr 2008

In the face of growing numbers of players exiting from New Zealand mid-career to take up lucrative offers with Northern Hemisphere clubs, and the looming threat of Dan Carter joining them, the NZRU has responded with a new initiative that stops just short of allowing players not participating in New Zealand competitons to still be eligible for All Black selection.

That the NZRU have stepped if not back then at least sideways from their policy of not recognising players plying their trade overseas is testament to the precipice they find themselves teetering on, as top All Black such asCarter and Jerry Collinssit poised to leave New Zealand at the end of this year. They have announced that, on a case by case basis, players will be allowed to go overseas for a season (5-6 months), miss a Super 14 season and still be eligible for selection in the All Blacks for the in-bound June internationals.

The fact that this will be on a “case by case”basis suggests that it is to prevent players of the calibre of Carter from being lost to All Black rugby for a couple of seasons if he does decide to take up one of the enormous financial offers that have reportedly been coming his way. Chances are that most Super 14 players will not be eligible for this Clause, unless they are a key player in terms of an All Black jersey.

Call methe devil’s advocatebut I’m not sure that this initiative from the NZRU, however well-intentioned, is going to be the panacea they hope to prevent the growing stampede of rugby boots to the Northern Hemisphere. Top players have already pointed out that it’s not on the money that makes the offers so appealing, but the chance to play with just one team, under one coach, in one season (split into two competitons), versus the three teams, three coaches and a four part season of Super 14, All Blacks, Air New Zealand Cup and an All Black end of year tour.

The additional bonuses of playing in the Northern Hemisphere include a clear off-season and limited time away from home with the shorter travelling distances within the UK and Europe. So just why anyone at NZRU headquarters thinks that players will want to spend their off-season coming back to play for the All Blacks when the whole idea in the first place is to get away from back to back rugby does puzzle me slightly.

The NZRU is never going to be able to compete with the Northern Hemisphere when it comes to money, so I can see why they are prepared to tweak their current policies as far as eligibility for All Black selection goes. But what they really need to face up to is the overcrowded New Zealand rugby calendar. Despite the fact it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, it appears the time has come that we no longer see All Blacks playing in the domestic Air New Zealand Cup competition. This needs to be their off-season if we want to remain seeing them participate in the Super 14, the home tests and end of year tours.

Given the present state of NZRU finances, the last thing they can afford is to lose yet more top All Blacks overseas as these are the drawcards for the public and where the coffers are filled from. As we saw only too evidently last year, no All Blacks in the Super 14 means smaller crowds at the games and less viewers on SKY – not exactly the way totop upthe NZRU bank balance. But until such time as a restructuring of the game can take place (not until next season at the earliest), the NZRU have taken the next best step with their Carter Clause. Let’s hope that even if it doesn’tstem the defection of top All Blacks to overseas offers, it will at least keep them in the black jersey in the interim.

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