New Zealand’s top rugby players could find out how much of their pay will be slashed as early as this week.

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While pay talks between New Zealand Rugby, players and agents are ongoing, New Zealand Rugby Players Association boss Rob Nichol revealed on Tuesday that higher paid players will have to shoulder the burden to help NZR survive the economic downfall that COVID-19 has brought with it.

“It’s not about a straight percentage, no it’s not. It’s about saying, ‘this is what we want to try and target by the end of the year’,” Nichol said on Sky Sport‘s The Breakdown.

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“It’s a pretty significant number rate, then we look at what payments are due between now and the end of the year, what can we set aside, what can we have to fall back on, and what do we have to effectively freeze?”

Team assembly fees for players look set to be the first payments to be scrapped, with other bonuses and retainers set to follow.

The maximum retainer for a top Super Rugby player is $195,000, while the minimum is $75,000.

Nichol said the emphasis was to protect players who earn less than $50,000 per annum.

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Those who fit under that category include sevens players, Black Ferns and draft Super Rugby players.

“There’s an obligation to make sure they’re [lower earners] taken care of and they don’t hurt so much,” Nichol said.

“We’re fortunate enough to have some good earners and those guys will step up and recognise they’re going to shoulder more of the responsibility.

“We’re getting down to the detail. Hopefully later this week we might be able to come out and explain what we’re doing.”

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Nichol also confirmed leading All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock, who took this year’s Super Rugby campaign off to take up a sabbatical in Japan, is heading a “competition working group”, formed to assist the return of rugby in New Zealand.

What shape that might come in remains to be seen, but the group of 15 players – which includes Mitre 10 Cup players – appear eager on the much-discussed New Zealand Super Rugby tournament, a beefed up provincial competition and a revival of North vs South matches.

“You can sense the enthusiasm they have around it, it’s really interesting times in that respect,” Nichol told The Breakdown.

“The most important thing I’m hearing from players is they do want an opportunity to play a domestic focussed competition as soon as possible and use that to galvanise the country.

“If there is an opportunity to play some international stuff, that will be important as well because that takes it to another level. Commercially, that will be important.”

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