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Montpellier beware, All Blacks deals don't always bear fruit

By Ian Cameron

Trending on RugbyPass

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Last week New Zealand Rugby (NZR) revealed a multi-million dollar kit sponsorship deal with Altrad, the company owned by billionaire construction magnate and Montpellier Herault owner Mohed Altrad.

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The six-year deal is one of the biggest of its kind in the history of the sport. Altrad, who already sponsors the French national team and MHR, has an enormous and well-documented passion for the sport. He’s poured millions of euros into Montpellier since first taking over the club and continues to be a major figure in the French rugby landscape.

The long rumoured Altrad All Blacks sponsorship deal has certainly raised eyebrows, with the scaffolding company reportedly beating off competition from Amazon and Japanese interests.

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No sooner had the deal been announced, and Altrad was talking up the details of the new partnership with the NZR and the All Blacks.

In an interview with French outlet Rugbyrama, Altrad revealed that there was a contractual understanding between the NZR and Altrad that players would be directed in the MHR’s direction.

This is provided for in the contractual clauses. They (NZR bosses) will do their utmost to facilitate contacts between the All Blacks who are no longer selected and our club. Please note: the players are obviously free to choose and we are talking about All Blacks who no longer play in the national team! But we will have an easier approach, indeed.”

But these deals don’t always pan out. Just ask Harlequins.

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The London club signed a unique agreement with the NZR in March, 2018, with both parties agreeing on a ‘cooperation agreement’.

Then NZR CEO Steve Tew said of the agreement: “This alignment will create significant opportunities for both sides, with players, coaches and staff able to learn from different environments with different people, challenges and cultures.”

The kicker of course was that Harlequins would be encouraged as a destination for All Blacks seeking lucrative sabbaticals from their New Zealand franchises.

The problem was, no one came.

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Apart from attack coach Nick Evans, who has been at the club since 2008, the only All Black to darken the door at Harlequins in recent years was Francis Saili, but again, his arrival was a full year prior to the 2018 deal and had nothing to do with NZR. The centre made his way to London via Limerick and Munster, not Auckland.

There were brief rumours that Julian Savea might be interested in calling West London home but he ultimately opted for an ill-fated spell at Toulon instead.

The only fruitful upshoot of the deal from a player point of view was England prospect Joe Marchant’s soujourn to Super Rugby. Marchant joined the Blues on a six months long loan in 2019 in a move that was “made possible through the club’s ongoing relationship with New Zealand Rugby (NZR).”

Marchant credits his time at the Blues with improving his skillset as a player. In 2018 the NZR sent then U20s flyhalf Harry Plummer to train at the Stoop, but that was just for a week.

Former All Black Tabai Matson is set to take over as senior coach at the club, coming off a stint as NZ U20s coach. There was no mention of the 2018 deal when he was announced.

Tabai Matson

(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

Montpellier, who have favoured South Africans to New Zealanders in recent years, are unlikely to send players to NZ on development missions. They want All Blacks, or at least the opportunity to land them ahead of their rivals.

The truth however is that – deal or no deal – the NZR can’t control player choices once they come off contract in New Zealand.

Yes, some sabbaticals have been negotiated but typically these seen players lump for Japan, where the money is good, the season is shorter and the rugby a little less demanding.

Of course, All Blacks that are no longer in contention for national honours do head for Europe under their own steam. These tend to be one-way tickets and many will never play rugby in New Zealand again. The likes of Aaron Cruden and Ma’a Nonu have bucked that trend in recent years, but most former All Blacks tend to finish their careers overseas once they leave the land of the long white cloud.

Unlike Harlequins, Montpellier have the deep pockets to compete for these players in their own right. Whether or not Altrad’s deal with the NZR has any effect, remains to be seen.

 

 

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Montpellier beware, All Blacks deals don't always bear fruit

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