A long list of All Blacks failing to live up to expectations is the basis of predictions that wealthy European rugby club owners will be far more discretionary with their money from now.
The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to put the spotlight on rugby’s struggles and high-paid All Blacks haven’t escaped attention.
“Owners will be more discriminating and less impulsive now, investing far less in hope. They have to be,” The Guardian’s rugby correspondent Paul Rees wrote in a lengthy article looking at how some failed signings would impact the new market.
He used Aaron Cruden’s reported $1.4m annual wage at French Top 14 club Montpellier as a prime example.
Rees suggested the words uttered by club owner Mohed Altrad in releasing Cruden early from his injury-plagued deal – “We hoped for something else” – would be “a fitting title for a book on the big-name signings made by clubs in France and England over the years”.
He dryly noted that Cruden’s Montpellier deal was “not bad for someone who for most of his international career was second choice, first to Dan Carter and then to Beauden Barrett”.
But Rees’ list of dubious All Black signings didn’t end there, though he did blame “excitable French owners” for failing to do their homework on potential recruits.
He singled out Toulon’s former boss Mourad Boudjellal for “harvesting New Zealand players … and often lamenting that his purchases quickly depreciated in value after reaching France, with even Ma’a Nonu singled out for attack”.
He pointed out that Nonu was one of six All Blacks backs who started the 2015 World Cup final who were signed by Top 14 clubs.
“Julian Savea went to Toulon and was also singled out by Boudjellal. Nehe Milner-Skudder signed for Toulon in 2019 but never made an appearance because of a shoulder injury. Conrad Smith went to Pau, Ben Smith’s destination after last year’s tournament in Japan. Carter was tempted to Paris by Racing 92’s offer of more than £1m (NZ$2m) a year, and only Aaron Smith stayed at home.”
Lima Sopoaga’s struggles at Wasps have been well documented and the former New Zealand and Highlanders first-five has admitted to struggling to adjust to his new environment.
“We do not have our support networks here. There’s a whole bunch of things, but I make no excuses for my poor form over the last year or so,” Sopoaga said.
Rees noted there were players with lesser hype that had made a success of their northern moves, pointing out the long tenure at Harlequins of former All Blacks No 10 Nick Evans and the transformation of Super Rugby tradesman Gareth Anscombe into a world class first-five with Wales.
Cruden and Milner-Skudder are now back in New Zealand with Savea looking to join them.
“Boudjellal struggled to understand why a player who had been part of a World Cup-winning team could not make the same impact in the Top 14,” Rees wrote in The Guardian.
“Which is why owners should do their homework. Simply expecting a player with a wealth of caps and a track record of success to fit in immediately, yielding an instant return on a substantial investment, is a folly that should be tempered by the current crisis that is stretching every professional club.
“High-profile signings, especially in France but on occasion in England, have been driven by owners rather than coaches, vehicles to sell season tickets and merchandise.”
This content was originally published here.