The five 'critical' All Blacks off-contract this year - and who Sir John Kirwan is most worried about losing
Former All Blacks great Sir John Kirwan has expressed concerns over the future of one of five headline All Blacks set to come off-contract this year.
New Zealand Rugby [NZR] will have a busy time at the negotiating table this year as Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Damian McKenzie, Codie Taylor and Brad Weber are all in the final years of their respective contracts.
All five of those players are widely viewed as vital figures within the All Blacks set-up, for various reasons, meaning NZR are likely to, if they haven’t already, begin negotiations over each player’s future over the coming weeks and months.
However, speaking on The Breakdown on Monday, Kirwan revealed he is worried that Weber is at the most risk of those five players of slipping away from NZR’s payroll due to his status as New Zealand’s third-choice halfback.
The Chiefs co-captain has been a regular member of the All Blacks since 2019, four years after he made his test debut, but has largely been confined to infrequent cameo appearances off the bench due to the presence of Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara.
Smith and Perenara both signed two-year contract extensions with NZR earlier this year to keep them in New Zealand until the 2023 World Cup, and Kirwan said the deal to keep Perenara, in particular, on Kiwi shores might force Weber overseas.
The 1987 World Cup-winning All Black suggested NZR may not have the funds to pay Weber the salary he deserves as a result of Perenara’s contract extension, which came after heavy speculation that linked him to a cross-code move to the NRL.
“I think the biggest risk is Brad Weber. I think he’s at the biggest risk because you’ve just re-signed TJ Perenara, so there’s probably not going to be enough money in the war chest for him,” Kirwan told The Breakdown.
“I mean I love this guy, I think they should sign him straight away. If they’ve decided he’s our third halfback for the World Cup, they’ll sign him, but he rightfully should get decent money.”
Kirwan added that re-signing Cane, Savea, McKenzie, Taylor and Weber should all be top priorities for NZR given what they offer to the All Blacks.
“You’ve got to sign Ardie Savea, especially with Sam Cane having a few years of injuries. If he’s All Blacks captain, you sign him.
“Codie Taylor, he’d probably be the first one that I’d sign with Dane Coles still fantastic but getting towards the end of his career and a few injuries.
“You’ve probably got to try and sign them all, but I’d be worried about Brad Weber more than anyone.”
Highlanders co-captain Aaron Smith as returned to the side’s starting lineup ahead of their must-win clash against the Brumbies in Canberra this weekend. #SuperRugbyTT #BRUvHIG https://t.co/Wp1Y7LwlCX
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Former Black Ferns midfielder Hannah Porter told The Breakdown that retaining both Cane and Savea is “absolutely critical” ahead of the next World Cup, while ex-All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina said he couldn’t rule out any of those five heading abroad.
“They actually go into the All Blacks environment and that’s a lot of IP [intellectual property] that they’ve got on their shoulders, so hopefully they can get that done. You wouldn’t possibly see them going overseas, but you just never know these days,” he said.
Furthermore, Muliaina said the loss of Cane, McKenzie and Weber would be particularly devastating for the Chiefs, who he said already have a youthful squad that needs experienced leaders within its ranks moving forward.
The 2011 World Cup winner warned that losing such vast experience could lead the Chiefs down a similar path to the Waratahs, who have endured a horror winless season following a mass exodus of seasoned veterans in recent years.
“They’ve got a very young squad and they’ve done very well through Super Rugby Aotearoa, but you lose a lot of that leadership and the Chiefs and the mana that they’ve got, that’s starting all over again,” Muliaina said.
“The last thing they want to be doing is getting to a stage where it’s similar to the Waratahs. I don’t think it will happen like that, but there’s a lot of leadership there that they would lose if those guys didn’t sign up.”
Last year’s All Blacks contracted to NZR until this year and beyond
Contracted until 2023: Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Tyrel Lomax, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa’i, Cullen Grace, Shannon Frizell, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown.
Contracted until 2024: Ofa Tuungafasi.
Confirmed to leave New Zealand this year: Ngani Laumape (Stade Francais).
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