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'He got a pay cut': Why Ardie Savea fought for a four-year deal with NZR

By Sam Smith
Ngani Laumape and Ardie Savea. (Photo by Brett Phibbs/Photosport)

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Earlier this week, Ardie Savea became just the second player to sign with NZR through to 2025.

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The 28-year-old captained the All Blacks for the first time this season and has now racked up over half a century of caps for the NZ national side, as well as over 100 for the Hurricanes. He was also, arguably, New Zealand’s player of the season.

All of the above, unsurprisingly, helped Savea negotiate a new four-year deal on his own terms, which Savea spoke about at lengths on the latest edition of his own personal podcast.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

“The negotiations started way back at the start of the year,” Savea revealed. “This process kind of took a while and the length of it was probably the longest you negotiate a contract.

“I became real intrigued in contracts and what people get paid … how do they know their value, how do they judge it. I was real intrigued in that many years ago. For me, it was like I had been [through] enough in my career to understand what goes on – the kind of base of it. It was only a thought in my mind to do it, I was too scared, but then I just kind of had people affirm me.

“My thinking was more around challenging myself but also I wanted a seat at the table so when it came time to crunch and fight for myself, there’s no better person to go battle for me as myself.”

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Savea also hoped to bring some power back to the players, who normally operate through their agents, and essentially cut out the middle man in some of the process. Instead of Savea having NZR’s position relayed to him through his agent, he was able to negotiate directly.

Through talking with other players about his negotiations, Savea was also able to ensure he will get paid what he feels he is worth.

“When players start talking to each other around their contract and what they’re on, that puts power to the players because what agents will tell them, who they’re negotiating with tell them, it could be so different to what the players [are actually getting],” he suggested.

“Say in my position, I might be the best playing loosie so far for the last year and a bit, or two years, and then you have another loosie who’s probably there as well but he’s just behind you. And then you come to negotiation and the agent or NZR are going ‘This is a great deal, mate. You’re on fire. This is what we usually offer guys that are on 50 caps, that are playing well, starting.’

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“Obviously you believe [what they tell you], sign it, but then you go talk to the guy that’s just behind you and you go ‘Hey bro, do you mind if you let me know what you’re on?’ And he sends you a contract and he’s on 50 per cent more than what you’ve been offered. That’s when you go ‘Hold on, I’ve been starting the last two years. This guy’s behind me but my new contract offer is … 30 per cent or 50 per cent [less] than what he’s on.’ That’s when people start figuring it out, start going ‘Hey, they’re telling me lies.’ And that’s where the negotiating, bargaining [comes in]. Agents and obviously the people we’re negotiating with don’t like it, but that just puts the power to the players and it allows you to pretty much negotiate more and provide for the family more.”

Savea’s new contract wasn’t signed until late last month and his elevation to All Blacks captain for the third game against Australia earlier this season naturally helped his bargaining position.

“I was negotiating a deal and then I got named skip and I still hadn’t signed, so I was like ‘Now that I’m skip, shit, my value’s gone up’. That’s just the risk and reward,” Savea said. “The longer you wait, you might get injured and then the deal’s gone. Or you wait and things like that happen, being named skip, being a leader, playing well, and it just increases your value to be able to negotiate more. The timing of it, the risk and reward of holding your negotiating it, is pretty important.”

And while Savea is in good form now, a first-choice All Blacks and one of the best players on the planet, opinions and expectations could change in the coming seasons, which is why he fought for a four-year deal.

“My reasoning around four years was the fact when Ngani Laumape was here and he got offered his contract, he got a pay cut,” Savea said. “His pay got decreased and he was trying to fight for just being the same for the next couple of years, or getting more. And with Covid and a lot of the uncertainty for the future … imagine if we signed to 23, to the World Cup, and I’d back myself 100 per cent but it was just the ‘what ifs?’ of if I go there and did my job or wasn’t playing as well and then all of a sudden and if I wanted to sign again but they offered less [like] what they did with Ngans.

“So I thought while I’m hot, while I’m playing really well, let’s maximise that and use that as a bargaining tool to get a bigger deal. For people that know, when you sign a bigger deal and want to stay in New Zealand for longer, that means they have to pay you, have to reward you for that loyalty. So that was my reasoning.

“Jules, for example, signed a four-year deal. He was getting paid top dollar and then he didn’t make the All Blacks in one of his still contracted years, they were still paying him top dollar. Eventually, Jules asked for an early release. They granted him an early release and then he was able to go overseas. If worst comes to worse and I’m playing poos and I don’t make the All Blacks, I’ll still be getting paid a good contract and NZR probably don’t want to do that, so they’ll probably grant me a release and then both parties are happy. That was my strategy around negotiating a four-year deal – but I back myself to stay here and leave a legacy.”

Savea also emphasised that his family was happy in New Zealand and that, all things going to plan, the 28-year-old would continue to play for the All Blacks for the foreseeable future – although changes to World Rugby’s regulations could force a rethink in the future.

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