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New Zealand Rugby facing civil war as players association threatens to break away

By Ben Smith
In this handout image provided by World Rugby, Sam Cane of New Zealand leads the Haka prior to kick-off ahead of the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Uruguay at Parc Olympique on October 05, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

The professional game in New Zealand is facing the prospect of a civil war after the New Zealand Rugby Players Association (NZRPA) issued a threat to break away from the current governance structure and form a new body.


The threat comes as recommendations from the governance review completed last year face opposition from the provincial unions who want a second proposal implemented.

The NZRPA states they are prepare to go with the nuclear option should the provincial union’s proposal is implemented.

A letter has been sent to the NZR voting member detailing the threat.

“Should Proposal 2 [put forward by some provincial unions] be adopted, or the status quo prevail, the professional players will no longer pass to NZRU, via a collective employment agreement, the right to govern the professional game,” the NZRPA letter said.

“A new body will be established to govern the professional game in New Zealand. Directors appointed by the professional players will represent the players on this body and on other bodies such as NZRC [New Zealand Rugby Commercial].

“NZRU will make appointments to this new body, as will, likely NZRC. Super Rugby Clubs will be represented and tangata whenua will of course be inherent.”

The NZRPA’s option would further put the game into turmoil for the foreseeable future, but is a necessary outcome according to NZRPA Chief Rob Nichol.


The players’ association will not accept any changes to the original recommendations that are inferior.

“The proposed new arrangements outlined above are NOT the NZRPA’s preference,” the letter said.

“The professional players do not want to see a divided and further complicated governance system but will not under any circumstances be governed under Proposal 2 or the status quo.”

The original governance review concluded that the current operating model was not ‘fit for purpose’ and recommended sweeping changes.

At the crux of the matter is the fight for power between the NZRU and provincial body unions, who rely heavily on funding from the national body to operate.

The provincial unions have been operating at ‘unsustainable’ levels of spending according to the review, with a preference for funding high-performance programmes over community initiatives.

However, the provincial unions have the power to overthrow the NZRU board, leading to continual conflict and a lack of accountability as the spending cannot be controlled.


NZRPA’s letter highlighted that only two parties are required to run professional rugby, NZRU and the collective players, without the provincial unions.

“You will be aware that the professional players and NZRU share the assets needed to operate professional rugby,” the letter said.

“For instance, NZRU owns the silver fern logo, the names of our great teams and the right to enter competitions such as the Rugby Championship, Bledisloe Cup and Rugby World Cup.

“The combination of these assets with the players creates the opportunity for professional rugby in New Zealand.”

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Jmann 29 days ago

It is time for a complete split of the amateur and professional areas of the game. It is also time for clubs to take over the running of all school rugby. Let the elite rugby schools keep their teams and have them compete against age-restricted club teams.

The NPC should be the pinnacle of the amateur game

gefitz 29 days ago

Shame these factions couldn’t get together and decide amicably where funding and revenue should go. NZR is desperate to compete with Japan for the top talent, and will continue to do so at the expense of the provincial game.... which is sort of shooting themselves in the foot long-term, don’t you think?

All I know is, worldwide: Union has not handled “professionalism” and it’s leadership just can’t fathom how to get out of this monetary mess.

Calum 29 days ago

I am picking the Professional players are wanting a change, where they can go off shore, earn big bucks, and still come back for AB duty or Super Rugby. This is all being driven by creed.
Without Grassroots rugby ie clubs, there are no Professional players, because where are they going to learn the basics of rugby to actually play.

Utiku Old Boy 29 days ago

Provincial rugby has been the source of professional players into the Super and national teams through a high level of game performance. Discounting that historical edge is not wise. The player Association (primarily driven by players at the top of the pool) risks alienating the public which is also made up of amateur players. Reporting has not clarified the main points of difference between the provinces and the national body - including the NZRPA - so that the public can discern what is going on. Money deals from Silver Lake were not transparent and I suspect all sides want to maximize their slice of that pie and other revenue. Regardless, these ultimatums can’t be good for the game.

Bull Shark 29 days ago

Wtaf is going on down there?

Otagoman II 30 days ago

Something fishy is going on here. Earlier this year Dame Patsy Reddy was threatening to step down if the review recommendations didn’t go through now it’s the professional players association going nuclear. It looks like a theft attempt by the executive and the association. Is there a big backer in the shadows? The clubs and by extension the unions own the game in NZ yet they are being told to shut up and have no say in the running of the game they have created and own. Ok let them go and do what they want but they can’t call themselves the ABs or the super or npc sides. At the end of everything this is a sport not a path to enrichment.

Greg 30 days ago

Expecting those provincial fish-heads to vote themselves out of power is like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas. Good luck with that!

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