Captain Richie McCaw has committed to the All Blacks for another two seasons, but a large number of his current teammates are set to join the growing exodus to France.
The Sunday Star-Times understands Jerry Collins, Joe Rokocoko, Keith Robinson and Mils Muliaina are all in discussions with French clubs and will quit New Zealand at the end of next year.
The moves were initially reported in French rugby newspaper Rugby Hebdo under the headline "A Black Tide in 2008".
According to sources, Collins was "almost certain" to relocate to the first division club Toulouse next year. Collins is believed to have already met club management when the All Blacks stayed in Toulouse for their World Cup game against Romania last weekend. He looked set to take up residence once his contract with the Hurricanes expired in a year's time.
The hard-hitting flanker is set to follow halfback Byron Kelleher, who relocates to Toulouse after the World Cup. Kelleher's contract is apparently worth 360,000 ($667,000) and includes the use of a car and an apartment. Commentators predict that Kelleher would also be able to earn an extra 100,000 from clothing and sportswear publicity contracts.
Injury-prone lock Keith Robinson is another possible transfer prospect to Toulouse, but official negotiations had not yet taken place.
And Muliaina was "nearly certain" to join the Stade Francais club in Paris next year.
Wing Rococoko, meanwhile, has also been in contact with both Stade Francais and the southern USAP club in Perpignan regarding possible contracts once his Blues contract ends next year.
Troy Flavell was another player on the market and the ASM Clermont Auvergne club was reported to be interested.
Reuben Thorne is a possible member for the star-studded Tana Umaga-coached Toulon club. Thorne's brother-in-law Andrew Mehrtens is playing for the second division club.
The shock news of future losses came as McCaw proved he's a man of his word and is staying loyal to New Zealand rugby for at least two more years.
The ink on his new contract isn't dry. The All Black skipper has not put pen to paper on a new deal. But he did reveal yesterday in Cardiff before leading the All Blacks against France in this morning's Rugby World Cup quarterfinal that he has "agreed to terms" with the New Zealand Rugby Union and wants to stay put in Christchurch for at least two more years.
"It's still subject to things but I think we have agreed on terms and I think there is going to be an announcement next week that I have signed for two years," he said in Cardiff yesterday.
"Obviously it has not been a big focus this week with this game. I have people at home taking care of it and I am pretty happy (with how negotiations have progressed)." Not surprisingly, so is his employer, the New Zealand Rugby Union.
After watching several leading players join the annual rugby exodus from New Zealand, the NZRU now finally has the ace in the pack it has been desperate to sign. It is a considerable coup. McCaw could have commanded a huge salary in France or the UK, far more than the NZRU have been able to offer and it is thought several clubs were courting his services.
In an interview with the Sunday Star-Times earlier this year McCaw said he would be staying put for lifestyle reasons and he has stayed true to his word, even if it took a little longer than expected for him to agree to terms.
NZRU chief executive designate Steve Tew led the negotiations with McCaw's management and said he was thrilled that the process he described as amicable was nearing a satisfactory end.
"It is good to hear Richie is comfortable to where we have got to but I would say early next week we will be able to sign the thing off and move on," Tew said.
Every All Black at this year's world cup has now decided what their short term future holds. But next year a new crop of All Blacks will come off contract, including Collins, Robinson and Muliaina. But by far the biggest name is Daniel Carter.
The NZRU will be desperate to sign the rugby superstar so he spearheads the All Blacks campaign at the next Rugby World Cup, to be played on home soil.
Both Carter and McCaw are paid handsomely for endorsing products and being current All Blacks boosts their value in the commercial sponsorship market. So hopes are high that Carter's current income, when endorsements are included, may compare favourably with overseas offers meaning the chances of him staying put are good.
Tew said McCaw's signature may help persuade other players to stay in New Zealand. "Everyone has decided what they will do this year but there is another group coming off contract next year and having Richie here is important."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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