Turns out Dan Carter had not one, but two, sabbaticals in his latest contract and Kieran Read could be about to join a growing trend of top All Blacks wanting the desirable option.
There is concern from New Zealand Super Rugby franchises that the increasing presence of sabbaticals will create extra strain on already stretched resources, as more top-tier players push for the clause to be included in their long-term deals here.
Carter's belated start to this season, after a seven-week American tour, was the first of his two-part sabbatical clause. All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and Carter each have one remaining six-month leave option within their four-year contracts.
Just when they choose to exercise those, between now and the next world cup, is anyone's guess at this stage. McCaw is likely to take time out from rugby, to refresh and travel the globe.
Carter may again look to boost his earnings by playing overseas, as he did with French club Perpignan in 2008, when he ruptured his Achilles.
"Dan had two sabbaticals. He has used one with the late start, his honeymoon this year, and he has the big one left to take, which is essentially six months," NZRU general manager of professional rugby Neil Sorensen told the Sunday Star-Times.
"Richie has just got the one for six months."
It appears Read, the likely future All Blacks captain, will be the next to follow the trend, meaning there could be a point where Carter, McCaw and the world-class No 8 all miss most, if not all, of a Crusaders campaign in the near future.
Not through injury. Rather, because the pivotal leaders are allowed to explore other options for lengthy periods.
"If that were the case it would be challenging. It's certainly a possibility. That's their right," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder told the Star-Times.
"I can see these sabbaticals happening more and more. It's starting to become the norm with our top All Blacks. It's probably being written into Kieran Read's contract right now. Kieran is keen to stay with the Crusaders and is negotiating with the NZRU now. I'd say that is well down the track."
While Blackadder understands the NZRU can't compete with the foreign dollar, he feels the model needs reviewing. Super Rugby teams, at present, don't have the ability to replace players with sabbaticals, effectively leaving them in the lurch and without some of their best talent.
"There will come a day where these players exercise their right to a sabbatical. There's no mechanism in there to protect the franchises from them being signed on these contracts or about being able to replace them," Blackadder said.
"If you get a couple of injures and you've got a salary cap, you can't afford to bring anyone in. There's got to be some thought and fine-tuning given to it.
"We support the sabbatical role in retention but we need to be able to bring in another player so we are not stretched. If we keep writing sabbaticals into contracts the compromise is it shouldn't be to the detriment of the franchise.
"The NZRU has to work with the franchises to make sure we've got enough adequate cover."
The early-season absences of key Blues' figures Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu hurt the struggling franchise this year, supporting Blackadder's plea. Woodcock elected to take leave. Nonu went to Japan to improve his bank balance.
"We've proven that it helps in terms of retention of our top players," Sorensen said.
"It's a tool that's worth using. We're not looking at who these can be farmed out to. It comes down to the individual. It will fit some but not others."
Sorensen, meanwhile, would not elaborate on whether the NZRU had offered Sonny Bill Williams, thought to be en route to the Sydney Roosters, a 12-game sabbatical option with the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan later this year. The deal is worth up to $1 million.
"I'm not prepared to go into what we offered Sonny. His agent [Khoder Nasser] was very clear about what his plans were. We put our offer on the table and said we'd love to keep you," Sorensen said.
"We were very happy with the boxing. In terms of a sabbatical, there were a whole host of things we talked to his agent about. But I'm not going to go into details. That will come out in a few weeks' time."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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