May 11, 2011
Richie McCaw is "very close" to confirming he's staying on in New Zealand beyond this year's World Cup - but Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams remain more complex negotiations.
That was the clear message from New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew today as he updated the latest from the attempts to re-sign the "big three" of the Kiwi game.
"Richie's very close to confirming that he'll stay," Tew told Radio Sport.
"We're giving him the space and time, and [we're] giving Dan the same courtesy. We're looking for a decision from them sooner rather than later.
"We've done what we can, we've been incredibly flexible, and I think we've done the right thing in doing that. Certainly that's the feedback we've had from both of them who have appreciated the different approach taken. It signals just how important they are to us."
Tew confirmed both Carter and McCaw had been offered four-year deals with plenty of flexibility built in for things such as sabbaticals and extended breaks.
"Our key goal at the moment is to have them here in 2012 and '13, and we think both could very well play a role well past that.
"Richie and Dan are world-class players, probably the best to have worn that jersey for the All Blacks, if not very close to it. They're very important to the future of the team and very important to our player retention strategy, and we make no apologies for being flexible [with them]."
Carter has a massive offer on the table from from Paris' Racing Metro club, and is understood to be much more interested than McCaw in experiencing the French lifestyle.
But the NZRU has previously allowed Carter to take a "sabbatical" in France, and there is likely to be a similar clause in the deal they've put in front of Carter this time.
The NZRU chief said "flexibility" was now a key component in negotiations with all players - experienced or not so.
"We're treating every negotiation as a separate process, and where we can without breaking any key rules we'll do what it takes to keep our guys in this country, because the French, Irish, Welsh and English, they're frankly a pain in the arse."
Tew also said the race was by no means lost with Williams, who continues to produce dazzling form with the Crusaders, despite continued conjecture he is set to jump at the big-money offer being put together in Toulon
"We're not resigned to losing Sonny Bill," Tew told Radio Sport. "We've had a very preliminary conversation with [his agent] Khoder [Nasser], and we think there's a prospect of him staying past 2011 and we're now working on that."
It's understood that Williams' representatives are starting to realise the off-field earnings potential he can muster as a star of the test arena, as opposed to his limited profile just playing in the Top 14 in France.
Tew said he felt Williams had already repaid the investment in him in terms of the profile, interest and quality of game he had brought in his first stint in New Zealand rugby.
Meanwhile, Tew corrected the impression given by Crusaders boss Hamish Riach that the NZRU's annopunced bailout of Canterbury rugby would be in the form of a grant, rather than a loan.
"That decision has not been made. We want to know exactly what the long-term situation is, and they've got insurance claims to work through, and they've got a lot of things they can do themselves to pull the situation back.
"So whether ultimately we support the Crusaders and/or Canterbury union with grants, loans or some other form of financial help has not been discussed by our board yet," he said.
Tew also confirmed discussions were ongoing between the Christchurch franchise, NZRU and "Sanzar colleagues" over where any potential Crusaders playoffs games will take place.
"There are some decisions to be made, and we'll work through those," he said. With AMI Stadium not available, the Crusaders have to balance the diminished revenue from keeping games within their boundaries, or the potential windfall from taking a game to, say, Eden Park.