Shirt sponsorship key to keeping ABs ahead

PATRICK JOHNSTON
Last updated 17:20 02/11/2012
Tana Umaga
Photosport
NEEDED: Tana Umaga believes the having a sponsor on the All Black jersey was needed to bring in funds.

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Commercialising the iconic All Black jersey with a sponsors name is not popular with Tana Umaga but the former captain told Reuters it was necessary if the World Cup winners wanted to stay ahead of the game.

The All Blacks had not had a sponsorship logo on the Adidas-branded jersey since 1999 but that ended last month when the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) signed a hefty, five-and-a-half year deal with the American International Group last month.

The insurance company's logo now features prominently on the All Blacks jersey with some supporters unhappy that one of world sport's most recognisable shirts now carries branding for the first time since a stint with a local beer brand in the 1990s.

Umaga, who played 74 tests for the All Blacks before retiring from internationals in 2005, said he understood the need for the NZRU to bring in funds and the long term benefits the deal would bring to the team that has dominated the game.

"It is just the way of the world, it was always going to come it was just a matter of time so I totally understand why they do it and why it is there but that is life," the 39-year-old told Reuters on the sidelines of the Singapore Sevens tournament.

"You can't filter things down on sentiment and what has happened in the past you have to move with the times and the times are tough, I would have liked it to just stay black but I have no qualms with what they are doing."

Despite the success on the field of the All Blacks and the five New Zealand teams competing in the Super Rugby tournament against South African and Australian opposition, all is not so financially well in the boardroom.

The NZRU were under pressure to bring in funds after tapping into a dwindling cash reserve to pay their share of the loss on operating costs of hosting last year's World Cup.

The NZRU then gave out a long-term loan of $500,000 to the Otago Rugby Union in May to help the body stave off liquidation.

FUTURE SUCCESS

Umaga, who coached the Counties Manukau Steelers back to the first division of New Zealand club rugby last week, said investing in the future was key to maintaining the All Blacks unrivalled success.

"I understand the benefits that everyone is going to reap from it, it helps us keep our youth going and that well of talent. If we didn't do it some of our programmes that our unions run might have to dry up which could affect the future."

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"The Maoris haven't travelled in a long time because of financial constraints so that is positive as well," he added of the indigenous team that will travel to Europe and tour for the first time in years this month.

The All Blacks romped to the inaugural Rugby Championship title with a clean sweep of victories over South Africa, Australia and Argentina and head to Europe to take on Scotland, Italy, Wales and England in November and December.

The AIG logo first appeared on the jersey for their final Bledisloe Cup match last month, a disjointed 18-18 draw with Australia in Brisbane that halted their 16-match winning run and which Umaga said will prove a wake-up call for the squad.

"It just gives you a reminder about where you really are," Umaga added.

"I wouldn't think it was complacency as I talked to a lot of the guys and they were keen...but I think the positive thing is that New Zealand still had the opportunity to win it in the last minute.

"They know they didn't play well and still didn't lose, it's again about them getting their game right and not so much what other guys are doing.

"I would say they are highly motivated to get across to Europe and put some things right and ground their game a bit more.

"They said they would rotate a few guys in the first two games and it will be interesting to see how that goes, hopefully it won't come a cropper for them but the players they have in there are young but there is some good talent."

- Reuters

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