Play without pay for North-South fundraiser

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 16/03/2012
NZ Rugby Players Association chief Rob Nichol.
JOHN SELKIRK/Stuff.co.nz
MEANINGFUL: Players' association boss Rob Nichol is adamant the North-South fundraiser will be a meaningful fixture.

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Crusaders players will be asked to play for free in a North-South match to raise funds for Dunedin.

Those members of Todd Blackadder's Crusaders squad who aren't wanted for the All Blacks' three-test series against Ireland in June will be expected to make themselves available for the fundraising match at Forsyth Barr Stadium instead.

All proceeds will go to Dunedin Venues Management which, along with the Dunedin City Council, has agreed to flag the $480,000 owed to it by the Otago Rugby Football Union which was saved from liquidation on Wednesday night, following discussions between a variety of groups, including the NZRU and the Rugby Players Association.

The South team will involve players from the Crusaders and Highlanders, while the Blues, Chiefs and Hurricanes will form the North. Details such as who will coach the teams have yet to be determined. Yesterday, players' association boss Rob Nichol was adamant it would be a meaningful fixture in which players would be out to impress All Blacks coach Steve Hansen ahead of the Rugby Championship (the new Tri-Nations) which starts in August.

Crusaders coach Blackadder had said he wanted to arrange a match to keep his non-test players match fit in June and the North-South game will do just that. But it could also be a potential minefield for Blackadder, who will already be nervous about his All Blacks getting injured before returning to duty for their Super match against the Chiefs on July 6.

"It is an opportunity for some Super players, who might think the All Blacks are a stretch but have a chance to make one of those [North-South] teams and get themselves noticed a little bit more," Nichol said. "It adds a meaningful game to that window."

The fixture is expected to involve about 50 players from outside the All Blacks squad.

Nichol said the game was offered to Dunedin Venues and the Dunedin council if both organisations offered to waive the debts owed by the Otago union.

"We wanted to offer a rugby solution. We said you can keep the proceeds for the ratepayers as, respectfully, some form of contribution to what we have asked you to do. We are extremely thankful for the decision and we have to make sure, as rugby, that we make the most of it and deliver something to the council."

In hindsight, Nichol said he wished the players' association, who involved Richie McCaw in discussions, had acted earlier in helping salvage the debt-ridden union. Despite the Otago union being required to slice $290,000 off players' contracts budget, players will not be asked to take pay cuts.

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Already about $200,000 has been saved, with some recruitment money not being spent, players leaving and others being released.

Nichol said the onus was on Otago to look to its club competitions for when it needed to replace injured players.

"Rather than buying in a player at around $40,000 or $50,000, you are going to look to bring in a kid at around $15,000-$20,000 this year. It doesn't mean you have to lose Tamati Ellison or those guys who are going to be the heart of the team this year. They are all going to be there this year, they will be fine."

- The Press

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