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Hurricanes CEO: Jordie Barrett 'could've earned a lot more money in Japan'

By Ned Lester
Jordie Barrett of New Zealand looks on during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Gold Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Hurricanes CEO Avan Lee has revealed more details about the contract discussions leading to Jordie Barrett’s long-term deal with New Zealand Rugby, and about the midfielder’s decision to join Leinster on a sabbatical.

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Seasoned All Blacks have the ability to forgo Super Rugby Pacific duties and sign a short-term deal overseas when negotiating the terms of new contracts with New Zealand Rugby, leading to many stints in Japan, like the deals Ardie Savea and Sam Cane are currently enjoying.

Barrett however was looking for a different challenge when the opportunity arose to spread his wings. With family connections in Ireland due to his father’s stint playing for Athlone, Barrett was keen to explore a potential return to the country.

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“There was discussion whether it was Japan or Leinster. If anything, the coach and myself, and the GM were keen for him to go to Leinster, to learn something new, in terms of how they play and how they prepare etc,” Lee told Newstalk ZB.

“That’s where Jordie wanted to go as well rather than Japan so we fully support his decision.

“Myself, having lived in Dublin for 10 years I’m quite happy about it. He’s going to a great place. Leinster is a great setup and he’ll do super well over there and love the environment, the crowds they get, and so forth.

“It’ll be great for him but I also think it’ll be great for Leinster, they’re getting a world-class player. From our perspective, he’s going to get a break from New Zealand, he’s been with us since 2017, and he gets to have a bit of an OE (overseas experience) while playing a really high standard of rugby. So, he’ll come back refreshed and raring to go.”

Refreshed mentally maybe more so than physically, as Barrett joins an already powerful midfield unit at Leinster and has landed himself in the hot seat of the United Rugby Championship, joining a powerhouse club with a target on their head.

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“The Irish midfield is the Leinster midfield so he’s going to be training with some top-quality players. That’s the reason he wants to go. He wants to play in that European competition,” Lee continued.

“It wasn’t about money for Jordie, he could’ve earned a lot more money in Japan but he wants to be in a really competitive competition testing himself week in, week out against the best players sin the world that are up there.

“I think you’ve got to admire that because he could’ve taken a big contract in Japan but he wants to test himself and he wants to play European rugby, so I say good on him.”

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Ultimately, Barrett’s decision to stay with the Hurricanes until 2028 was a huge win for the club and the country.

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“It’s important, the team’s been building over a couple of years and I think we’re just starting to realize our potential.

“We’ve got a couple of guys who are behind Jordie at the moment in the squad in his position, we’re really positive about them and confident that they will be able to play really well for us while Jordie is away but also when he gets back.

“So we’re excited, he’s a great man and we’re just really happy he’s sticking around.”

Waiting in the wings for the Hurricanes is one-time All Black Peter Umaga-Jensen and young gun Riley Higgins. The latter was handed the No. 12 jersey while Barrett served a three-week suspension earlier in the season, offering some insight into who might be first in line for the starting gig in 2025.

The contract is seen as a win-win for the Hurricanes, given the competitive international market in today’s game.

“I think we’ve all got to protect the value of Super Rugby and the All Black jersey. We’re never going to be able to compete on dollars, or for contracts but we want our best players playing Super Rugby and for the All Blacks as much as possible.

“But, like I said, Jordie’s been here since 2017 and he deserves some time out, it’s no different to most New Zealanders going to do a bit of an OE after school or university. I think it’s important for the player but also for the future for him coming back, it’s awesome.

“We could be sitting here now saying ‘Jordie’s gone. He’s left. He’s signed for Leinster for four years.’ But, he’s going there for six months, he’ll miss one Super Rugby season, come back for ’26, ’27 and ’28. So, we’re feeling really positive about the whole thing.

“Would we prefer to have Jordie here the whole time? Sure. But, it’s important for him and he’s got the ability to do it. He’s gone about it 100 per cent the right way, kept us informed the whole time, incredibly respectful and humble, so can’t fault the way he’s done it.”

Barrett’s absence is no doubt a blow for the Canes’ 2025 season, but Lee said you need only look as far as the current Super Rugby Pacific ladder to see how a team can deal with a key absence.

“Everyone before the season was saying the Hurricanes won’t be the same side without Ardie, yet Peter Lakai, Brayden Iose and Brad Shields might have something to say about that. They’ve gone incredibly well and I think sometimes, given an opportunity is when people flourish.

“Naturally, Ardie’s a great player and so is Jordie, but we back our whole squad.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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