New Zealand’s worst nightmare is on the verge of coming true as Dan Carter and Nick Evans are set to move overseas at the end of the year.
Gregor Paul writes that The Herald on Sunday understands both men have told the All Black selectors the chances are high they will quit after the Grand Slam tour in November.
Carter and Evans have been bombarded with offers since the World Cup and, while the New Zealand Rugby Union is determined to keep these world-class performers, both have admitted they are veering towards Europe.
With European clubs in full recruitment mode ahead of the 2008-09 season, Evans is expected to make a decision in the next few weeks. He has offers to play in England, France and Ireland.
Carter’s situation is expected to take longer to resolve. The 26-year-old is one of the biggest stars in the game and has the potential to build an All Black legacy that will see him regarded as the best No 10 of all time.
Given Carter’s ability and importance to the All Blacks, the NZRU is understood to have offered the star five-eighths a sabbatical period so he could play in Europe next year while remaining contracted to the national body.
Aware that the financial power of the European clubs is too much to compete against it – reports in France suggest Carter has been offered 750,000 Euro ($1.5 million) a season – the NZRU is trying to be more flexible with player contracts.
One proposal could see Carter, whose current deal expires this year, sign with a major European club for six, 12 or possibly 18 months while remaining contracted to the NZRU.
Under the terms of that deal, Carter would be able to enjoy a European sojourn and know when he would be returning to New Zealand and under what conditions.
It’s a smart play by the NZRU and it’s an option that could favour Carter, who is believed to feel pressured and inhibited by the external expectations he carries.
Part of the attraction of an overseas move is to escape the goldfish bowl of New Zealand where Carter is widely recognised and where his every move is under scrutiny.
While shifting to an ambitious European club such as Leicester, Toulouse, Toulon or Bath will not be without its pressures, off-field at least Carter would be afforded relative anonymity.
Both the NZRU and All Black coaches hope Carter might opt for a brief stint in Europe to sample the lifestyle and recharge mentally before returning, possibly in time to play in the 2010 Super 14.
The 26-year-old is one of the few players in the world to whom a European giant would be prepared to offer a short-term contract.
Most clubs want to sign players on two-year-deals, sometimes even three years, but Carter could be the exception.
There has been some speculation that Evans would be tempted to put his future on hold until Carter had made known his intentions. If Carter should leave New Zealand at the end of the year, Evans would have an opportunity to establish himself as the All Blacks’ first choice No 10.
But the offers to Evans won’t sit on the table forever and he, like all the other players coming off contract, has been encouraged by the All Blacks coaches not to deliberate too long.
Assistant All Black coach Wayne Smith says that his view has remained consistent throughout the professional period – that players should focus on performance as that will prove the key to creating other opportunities.
“It can be a concern [elongated contractual negotiations] if it starts to affect a player’s game.
“My advice has always been the same – focus on what you are good at and put the form on the track. Everything else will take its course from there.
“The attitude that we had before the World Cup was that we didn’t want guys sitting around thinking about their future, about whether they should stay or go. We try to get round to them all and talk to them so they know where they stand.
“We appreciate these are big decisions to make. Other than tell the guys we want them and we would love for them to stay, there is not much else we can do.”
Smith now feels the issue of player retention is bigger and more complex than is publicly realised and is also potentially more damaging.
The NZRU, to their credit, are trying to use innovative tools like sabbaticals and soft-loans to counter the offers made by the rich European clubs.
But Smith believes the first step in the battle is to make a philosophical decision about the national team that is then supported across a range of other institutions, including the Government.
“The NZRU has a think tank looking at ways to keep players but the issue is much deeper than that,” says Smith.
“I think we need to ask what do we want the All Blacks to be? Longer-term, do we want them to be an iconic team?”
He points to the example set by Ireland, who have in place a Government-driven legislation that allows professional sportspeople massive tax rebates if they retire in the Emerald Isle.
The legislation was originally put in place amid fears the horse racing industry, which creates hundreds of jobs and pumps millions of euros into the Irish economy, was losing too many trainers and jockeys.
It has worked well for the Irish Rugby Union, too, who have managed to keep stars such as Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, despite both men having been offered bigger gross salaries to play in France.
The NZRU has tried to engage the Government in negotiation about a similar scheme here but has not managed to make any headway.
Smith remains hopeful, though, that there is recognition more needs to be done to retain elite talent in New Zealand.
“I don’t want to dramatise things but I’m not sure this country understands how big this issue is and how complex it is. The players are being offered huge amounts of money to go overseas where they will be able to spend more time with their families and gain that overseas experience which is very different.
“We have to find strategies to help them to what they love. We are continuously working on solutions and a lot of the feedback we have had has been really positive.”Tweet