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'Envy of a lot of the rugby world': Sam Cane's agent jumps into All Blacks eligibility debate

By Ben Smith
All Blacks captain Sam Cane poses in his new uniform following a press conference for the Japanese rugby side Suntory Sungoliath at Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu, Tokyo on November 28, 2023. (Photo by Richard A. Brooks / AFP via Getty Images)

Sam Cane has suggested that the All Blacks eligibility rules should be reviewed but his agent has defended New Zealand Rugby’s stance on picking overseas players.

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Top rugby agent Simon Porter, who manages Cane among other high profile names, said that New Zealand is the “envy of most the rugby world” when it comes to contracts.

The formation of the eligibility rules at the dawn of professionalism was more by accident than by design, but the agent believed it was one of the core competitive advantages that drives success with the All Blacks today.

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“When rugby went professional in 1996, we adopted the central contracting model,” Porter explained on Newstalk ZB’s Talksport with D’Arcy Waldegrave.

“By need more than anything, we didn’t have private money that was potentially on offer from England and France, to come in and make clubland the primary contract holder.

“We went centrally contracted and that meant that New Zealand Rugby were the ones that put up all the money and had all the rights etc. and contracted all the players.

“The one thing in this debate that I think you cannot underestimate or overlook is that, even though we haven’t had success at the last two World Cups in the men’s game, it is still our competitive advantage.”

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Porter pointed to Australia’s desire to copy the centralised model as evidence of this competitive advantage that New Zealand has.

As Rugby Australia grapples with in-fighting at the top after ousting chairman Hamish McLennan, they have expressed a desire to centralise their system to align all the bodies in the game.

A strong system is required to fight the growing demands of professionalism and offshore leagues who want to attract the best players.

“We are the envy of a lot of the rugby world in how we contract,” he said.

“We see Australia with their moves. They are trying to centralise, bring everything under the same tent.

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“That is basically just trying to replicate what we have. You have to remember it is a competitive advantage and then matching that you’ve got the advancing of professionalism.

“Advancing of players wanting to play around the world in different competitions, and you’ve got those competitions who want the best players.

“At the end of the day everything in sport is a competition for eyeballs.”

For New Zealand rugby players the dream has always been to become an All Black, and Porter believes that is still the case today.

But having seen the landscape change from amateur to professional, the younger generation don’t know of anything different other than fully professional.

The players that are coming through view the game as a means to set themselves up for life as opposed to players during the amateur days.

“The lure of the black jersey is still very strong, there is no doubt,” he said.

“But what you are also getting is a breed of rugby player where rugby has only been professional in their lifetime.

“They don’t know the stories of the sacrifices or the brown paper envelopes paid in Italy or anything like that. They only know professionalism.

“They are brought up laser-focused on wanting rugby to be what they do, how they make their money, how they can set themselves up.

“This breeds the next question of how do I do that, when do I give up on the dream.”

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The hot topic is less of an issue than it is being made out to be, with the agent revealing the number of players leaving New Zealand from his agency is lower than previous post-World Cup years in the past.

The “cyclical” nature of the rugby business built around a four-year Rugby World Cup cycle meant that this generally always happens.

“Every four years this debate rolls around because it’s a World Cup year and there is an exodus,” he said.

“It’s pretty cyclical in nature, the big names head off after the World Cup because they’ve done their time in the jersey and want to hand it on.

“I know it is an interesting talking point but I don’t know it is the big issue that everyone makes it out to be.”

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