contract early; Chris Masoe wanted to
leave and both Nick Evans and Dan Carter
intimated early that year they had offshore
offers they were going to take.
That sparked the NZRU into looking
outside the square and the concept of the
sabbatical was hatched. Carter was
persuaded to sign a three-year deal that
would allow him to play for Perpignan for
six months.
It also saw the NZRU identify a group
of senior players and offer them attractive
terms to stay. In that group were Richie
McCaw, Carter, Mils Muliaina, Ali
Williams, Tony Woodcock and Rodney
The All Black coaches reckoned they
wouldn’t be able to win the 2011 World
Cup if they didn’t lock these players in to
longer term contracts. They also feared
that if they lost any more topline talent,
theyd struggle to maintain a winning side
and the whole legacy would be in danger.
If that sounded a bit dramatic, it turned
out to be not too far from the mark. There
was a period in 2008 when the picture
looked remarkably bleak for the All Blacks.
They started off well enough in June with
comfortable wins against Ireland and
England and then defeated South Africa in
the opening game of the Tri Nations.
But a combination of injury and
suspension struck and the All Blacks’
depth was tested. And it was found
The NZRU were
surprised to see Luke
McAlister leave in 2007.
wanting. In Dunedin, the All Black tight five which played the
last 60 minutes had fewer caps accumulatively than one
Springbok – Victor Matfield. That lack of experience told and the
Boks won in New Zealand for the first time in 10 years.
The next game was even worse. Without the injured McCaw,
the All Blacks were crucified in Sydney and there was a horrible
feeling that the game was on the brink. Too many good players
had left – not even the All Blacks could be expected to regenerate
after such a big clean out.
That they went undefeated for the rest of the year – they played
15 tests in total – was a tribute to the courage of the senior group
who had been paid so well to stay. Carter, McCaw, Williams and
Muliaina played every test and they dragged their teammates to
new heights.
The All Blacks and New Zealand rugby survived the exodus of
2007 but only because they were smart and innovative. And only
because a handful of world class players dug deep and gave
everything they had at a time when New Zealand needed them too.
erhaps, though the real evidence of how hard the game
had been hit in that period, was the lack of Super Rugby
success. In the 2004-2007 cycle, New Zealand had a
finalist in 2004 and the Crusaders were winners in 2005
and 2006.
In the next cycle, a victory came for the Crusaders in 2008, but
that was it. One title in the cycle – the lowest return known for
New Zealand.
Alarm bells rang again in 2011 – started in fact in late 2010 –
when the likes of Dan Bowden, Michael Paterson and Ti’i Paulo
left when they were on the edge of the World Cup frame.
The clean out, when it came, really was extensive. Dave Rennie
arrived at the Chiefs and went through them like a dose of salts
and in total, there were 36 contracted Super Rugby players in
2011 who didnt play the following year.
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