Sunday Aug 29, 2010
Confidence is high that Richie McCaw will extend his All Black career until at least 2012 when he engages in contract talks after the Tri Nations.
The All Black skipper has intimated he wants to stay beyond the World Cup and will make that commitment soon, possibly even before the Grand Slam tour.
Dan Carter will be offered a similar chance to commit.
A formal offer will most likely be made after the Tri Nations campaign. Carter is also believed to be interested in staying until 2012, but it is the skipper who is likely to sign first.
This campaign to persuade key senior players to extend their existing contracts early is driven mainly by the lessons learned at the last World Cup.
The independent review of that campaign found many players were distracted at the tournament by contract negotiations. Some began talks with European clubs during the World Cup, while others concluded discussions during the pool rounds. McCaw actually signed an extension with the NZRU the day before the quarter-final.
Neil Sorensen, NZRU general manager of professional rugby, says: "We don't want that situation again. We want to remove all doubt. We would love for Dan and Richie as well as the new crop coming through such as Victor Vito and Kieran Read to extend their time with us.
"At the moment we are leaving them until the Tri Nations is out of the way but I would imagine it's possible that we could sit down with them and present a formal offer before the end of year tour."
Essentially the NZRU are trying to force players into making early decisions. They are trying to discover who is interested in staying beyond 2011 and who is looking to leave.
Given the contracts are determined by a collective agreement and the NZRU are open about pay scales, the detail is rarely a sticking point.
For the likes of McCaw and Carter, the hard part is deciding if they are philosophically open to the idea of staying or whether they want to try something else.
McCaw, as he indicated in June, remains passionate about being an All Black and still, clearly, loves playing international rugby. Carter has also made encouraging noises about staying beyond next year but is thought to be some way off yet from fixing on that.
Other factors are behind this recruitment drive. The switch to direct franchise contracting has bought the NZRU extra time. Under the terms of the new collective agreement, 120 players have to be contracted until at least 2011 by the end of October.
Already, two months ahead of schedule, close to that number have signed. Another 20 will be secured by the end of the ITM Cup round-robin with 20 professional contracts in November's Super 15 draft.
Normally the NZRU have about half their 140 professional players coming off contract in any given year and would still be scrambling to secure many of those at this time of year.
With so many players already committed until 2011, the NZRU have been able to shift focus to 2012 and begin talks now with senior players about extending existing contracts.
Of the near 120 players committed until 2011, about 55 are actually contracted through to 2012 or beyond.
The NZRU want that number to keep climbing as the total pool of money to pay players will be less in 2012 - that's been pre-agreed with the Players' Association as the expectation is that, inevitably, a handful of leading players will leave following the World Cup.
If the NZRU can get a handle now on who will be here in 2012, it will give them a better indication as to how much money they will have left to contract lower profile players.
By Gregor Paul