Despite aggressive interest from wealthy overseas clubs, the New Zealand Rugby Union is trumpeting the signatures of 14 elite All Blacks on a range of contract extensions.
The NZRU will never compete with lucrative overseas salaries, but the power of the black jersey continues to retain the majority of New Zealand's best players and justify the All Blacks' strict home-grown selection policy.
Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith, world-class fullback Israel Dagg and the All Blacks' most-capped prop, Tony Woodcock, have joined halfbacks Piri Weepu and Aaron Smith, loose-forward Victor Vito and hooker Hika Elliot, who have all committed through to 2014.
The 31-year-old Woodcock shows no signs of slowing down ahead of his move to the Highlanders next year, while Weepu's extension may see him stay at the Blues for two more seasons.
New Hurricanes prop Ben Franks is the only player to sign through to the next Rugby World Cup, in 2015.
"I love playing my footy here so I was keen to extend my contract again," Smith said. "Given my number of years in the game, I was impressed with the way the whole process was handled and I look forward to the next few years in New Zealand."
After the dramas that saw him tear up his Blues contract and join the Highlanders, Ma'a Nonu has committed until the end of 2013, as have veteran hooker Andrew Hore and locks Ali Williams, Sam Whitelock and Anthony Boric - who had neck surgery in August to fix problems with a bulging disc around his C5 and C6 vertebrae.
Boric is on the comeback trail and has not played for the Blues since March.
All Blacks captain-in-waiting and Crusaders No 8 Kieran Read is an interesting case. Read is expected to take over the leadership duties next year when Richie McCaw takes his six-month sabbatical. After a prolonged negotiation process, Read has signed only a one-year extension.
"We are delighted that a number of players have re-signed with New Zealand rugby for the immediate future," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "Having that experience available will be essential in building this team beyond where it is at the moment and gives us confidence in going forward."
McCaw, vice-captain Daniel Carter, Owen Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Keven Mealamu, Corey Flynn, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Liam Messam, Sam Cane, Andy Ellis, Aaron Cruden, Colin Slade, Beauden Barrett, Cory Jane, Hosea Gear, Ben Smith, Tamati Ellison, Zac Guildford and Richard Kahui have all recently committed to New Zealand rugby.
"The number of key players recommitting shows that we have an attractive environment in New Zealand that players want to remain part of and we have worked very hard to achieve that," NZRU boss Steve Tew said.
- Sunday Star Times
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