You have to laugh.
The same All Blacks who are happily bankrupting their governing body are the self-same blokes who strenuously resist all efforts to generate the money to pay their wages.
You can argue all you like about whether Silver Lake is the right outfit for New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to get into bed with. Just as you can ask questions about what the American company’s $465 million investment might entitle them to.
What’s not in dispute is that NZR cannot continue to pay its mammoth player wage bill and that alternative revenue streams are required.
It’s just that it’s going to take a pretty unique commercial relationship to satisfy our All Blacks and their increasingly-militant players’ association.
Union is probably a better word for that group. New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA) boss Rob Nichol appears as intransigent as any trade union leader of the past and forever dissatisfied with the efforts of the good folk from NZR.
I’ve rarely been NZR’s biggest cheerleader, but you have to applaud the efforts they’ve attempted to go to in the name of paying our elite players what Nichol and their agents believe they’re worth.
If that’s cheapening the All Blacks’ jersey, as the NZRPA have suggested, then I’ll eat my hat.
But let’s wonder aloud about things that do cheapen that storied jumper.
Rest weeks and rotation absolutely cheapen the jersey. Wailing and moaning about a spell in quarantine, as the players did last year, definitely cheapen it too.
As do the demand for sabbaticals and the constant complaints about travel that accompanied the pre-COVID Sanzaar competitions. Those grizzles were soon replaced by others about how taxing Super Rugby Aotearoa was last year.
At every turn NZR – and our Super Rugby franchises – have to incentivise playing. Never mind the healthy wage our high-performances players receive, these blokes have a continual reluctance to take the park.
That kind of attitude means it’s not uncommon for 50 men to wear an All Blacks jumper across a calendar year. Tell me that doesn’t cheapen the jersey.
All of this stuff erodes the relationship between the players and their many fans. It creates an impression of prima donna behaviour and behind-the-scenes tantrums.
Of blokes who’re never happy with their lot and threaten to walk whenever their demands aren’t met. Of men who require a lucrative stint in Japan as part of any long term deal with NZR.
Rugby, in case our leading players aren’t aware, is not in rude health. Clubs – the lifeblood of the game for generations – face going down the gurgler, as NZR allocate almost every available dollar to the professional game.
The way things are going, recreational rugby will soon cease to exist. There’ll just be a few elite schools pumping out First XVs, the Super Rugby franchises and the All Blacks.
Will Nichol and company be happy then? Or will they continue to ask for more money in exchange for fewer days’ work?
I say all the time that I’d be happy to drive any discontented players to the airport. Honestly, if life as an All Black is just so hard and NZR such a difficult employer, then these fellas are more than welcome to leave.
Chances are they’ll quickly realise how good they’ve got it here.
The players act like they’re doing NZR the favour. That their employers should be ecstatic at having their services.
Cheapen the jersey? These guys are absolutely kidding.
In almost every word and deed our players cheapen the efforts of all those who came before them. Who created the mystique and the legacy that these modern-day men profit from, with little of the money and perks that now come with it.
The honest truth is that the All Blacks’ jersey was here before these men inherited it and it’ll hopefully still be here long after they’ve gone.
You say hopefully because of the huge financial stress NZR are under. Stress that might be alleviated by the players doing things like taking a pay cut or – at the very least – having an open mind about the alternate revenue streams the governing body are trying to generate.
There’s so much to admire about what our elite players produce on the park, but their inflexibility off it is hard to fathom.
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