Steve Tew: 'Lessons learned' in Nonu saga

GETTING OUT: Ma'a Nonu used an out-clause in his NZRU contract, typically used by experienced players for early releases to play overseas, to effect a change in Super Rugby teams from the Blues to Highlanders.
GETTING OUT: Ma'a Nonu used an out-clause in his NZRU contract, typically used by experienced players for early releases to play overseas, to effect a change in Super Rugby teams from the Blues to Highlanders.

New Zealand rugby boss Steve Tew today acknowledged there had been "lessons learned" around Ma'a Nonu's revolutionary shift from the Blues to the Highlanders for next year's Super Rugby season.

Tew, in a conference call with media following the New Zealand Rugby Union's latest board meeting, confirmed that Nonu's ground-breaking, and controversial, contractual realignment had been discussed by the game's powerbrokers.

Though he was reluctant to reveal specifics around the fallout from Nonu's move, which upset new Blues coach Sir John Kirwan, Tew admitted New Zealand rugby's franchise contracting model was somewhat of a moving feast at the moment.

Nonu had exercised an out clause in his existing NZRU contract to effectively trigger a change in Super Rugby franchises - thought to be a first involving a leading All Black. Previously such clauses had been utilised to gain early releases for long-serving international players.

"The reality is franchise contracting is a topic covered under the collective bargaining process which started last week," said Tew. "Yes, we did discuss it at the board table.

"Is it a live issue that requires some thought? Yes. Where will it end? I don't know. We think there are significant upsides to the way we have changed the process around franchise contracting but there are some lessons we will learn on the way."

Asked if the Nonu situation was ideal given the situation the Blues found themselves left in, Tew ducked for cover behind it still being a "live issue" as Super Rugby squads are finalised.

"We will review all consequences of the changes to the contracting process put in place. Overall we're very pleased with what it's done in terms of helping franchises take control of their own destinies.

"But there are some things we need to think about, and certainly the ability to move franchises within a New Zealand contract is something we need to give some thought to."

The NZRU chief executive also reaffirmed his general satisfaction around the national provincial championship despite some recent negative feedback around the demands imposed by the compact schedule.

Tew said gates were up "about 12 per cent" on last year and he stood by earlier comments that that the structure of the competition would remain unchanged.

"Overwhelmingly the feedback we get is that 14 teams is worth retaining, though it's not without its challenges, and that two divisions is a good compromise in terms of fitting into the window we have."

He said the next step was to come up with a more "manageable" draw which remained a work in progress.

"We'll talk to the provinces and get a sense of how they might want to structure the draw for next year, and do that over the next two to three weeks so we're able to get the draw done and dusted so people can get into planning their year."

Tew said the board had spent the majority of its time discussing finances and setting budgets for 2013 and confirmed the 2012 financial year was tracking above forecast, helped significantly by the addition of AIG to the sponsorship "family".

But the NZRU chief was less equivocal around the financial state of the provincial game.

"There are a number of unions better than they were three months ago and certainly better than this time last year," he said. "But not so pleasingly there are others worse off.

"It's still very tough out there. It's a difficult environment, and it's still taking time for unions to manage their business into the scale they should be."

To that end, though, Tew admitted to some satisfaction around the way Otago had come through their NZRU-assisted financial recovery package to make the championship final against Counties Manukau tonight.

"A number of unions outside the major metropolitan centres have really focused on picking players out of their club competitions, and that's exactly where it should sit.

"Tonight's final in Pukekohe is a good reflection of two sides who have [done that] and been good enough to get them into the space they're in."

Tew also confirmed earlier Fairfax Media reports that All Black and Highlanders flanker Adam Thomson had not been contracted for next year. He said the player's status for the end-of-year tour was a matter for the national selectors.

Fairfax Media