Kiwis moaning over our cash is a bit rich
NOTHING like a bit of a moan coming out of New Zealand ... Steve Tew, the NZRU CEO, was at it this week, closely followed by national coach Graham Henry, both bemoaning the mass exodus of All Blacks and potential All Blacks to the northern hemisphere.
Ireland and, more particularly, Ulster were in the Kiwis' sights after the province's recruitment of Test prop John Afoa and highly-rated three-quarter Jared Payne.
Brad Thorn has since announced a post-World Cup move to Japan, Luke McAlister is on his way to Toulouse and Dan Carter is reportedly on the verge of completing a €5m move to Racing Metro.
All very galling for our New Zealand friends, and Henry was especially cutting in his damnation, when he seemed to be referring specifically to Payne.
"It does irritate me," said Henry. "The young guys who have had a dream of playing for the All Blacks for 15 to 20 years give up the dream because they get offered some big money to go to Ireland or France and they finish up regretting it and think 'oh Jesus, it's not so nice over here after all'."
Coming from a man who left New Zealand to take up a lucrative deal with Wales in the late 1990s, followed by a similarly well-compensated stint with the Lions in 2001 (a tour he managed to butcher with heavy-handed coaching), these comments were particularly amusing.
And the hypocrisy does not end there. New Zealand were in the vanguard of the drive towards professionalism in the late 1980s and early 90s and operated a 'shamateurism' policy long before the floodgates were officially opened in 1995.
Ex-Ireland players tell stories of taking time off work at considerable expense to participate in the inaugural World Cup in 1987, only to arrive in New Zealand and be greeted by All Blacks such as hooker Andy Dalton advertising farm equipment on television.
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Going professional allowed countries such as Ireland to narrow the gap and now New Zealand are bitching about the very market forces they campaigned so assiduously for.
A player is entitled to maximise his earning potential over the course of what is a relatively short career and, though northern winters can be tough going, rainy nights on the deserted streets of New Plymouth and Rotorua can make a spell in Belfast, London or Paris seem very attractive -- particularly if it comes with an opportunity to feather your nest.
The question is, does the northern hemisphere really need this overseas influx?
It is a constant source of irritation how the southern hemisphere rugby nations are continually placed on a pedestal to the detriment of the countries that host their exports.
The English Premiership and Top 14 are awash with players who are not qualified to play for England and France but, while both leagues have enough teams to cater for the influx, Ireland, with four franchises comprising just 60 starting places, does not have that luxury.
While Munster and Leinster have learned the hard way to select judiciously from overseas, Ulster, in their determination to buy success, appear to have lost the plot.
This season they have fielded sides containing BJ Botha, Johann Muller, Pedrie Wannenburg, Robbie Diack, Ruan Pienaar, Simon Danielli and Adam D'Arcy -- which has held back Irish qualified players, most notably back-rows Willie Faloon and Chris Henry, the former not getting the starts he deserves and the latter consistently played out of position.
Payne is ear-marked for the centre, which will put the squeeze on Paddy Wallace, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten and Nevin Spence, while Afoa has been brought in as a direct replacement for Botha when Ireland need to develop tight-head props such as Tom Court, Paddy McAllister and Jerry Cronin.
When you get a gem like Rocky Elsom, Isa Nacewa, Nathan Hines or Doug Howlett, they can lift everyone around them, but swamping the side with overseas recruits is not in the national interest. Now Jean de Villiers has declared his interest in returning to Munster when it would be far better to develop homegrown talent such as Ivan Dineen or accommodate the excellence of Keith Earls in midfield. De Villiers had his shot with Munster and didn't take it.
If New Zealanders like a good moan, then so do the Irish, and for once we are in agreement -- stay at home, boys. It is time European rugby was bullish about its own talent instead of being the southern hemisphere's cash cow.