Underwriter's money safe with the Crusaders

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2012
Corey Flynn, Andy Ellis and Dan Carter
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SMART INVESTMENT: Mining magnate Brent Francis has made a smart investment with the Crusaders.

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OPINION: Brent Francis will be confident he's not taking a gamble on this one.

The head of Francis Mining, who owns several coal mines on the West Coast, is the underwriter that has ensured the Crusaders will be run by a South Island provincial union-based group until August 2020.

Barring a spectacular meltdown by the accounts staff or gross negligence of the Crusaders board members - of which Francis will be one - he should have little to worry about.

That's because apart from last year's financial performance, when the earthquakes ripped the Crusaders' books apart, the franchise has regularly posted healthy profits.

Not surprisingly, the new deal was notable for its conservatism as much as anything.

The reality is that while the New Zealand Rugby Union has allowed the Crusaders to tinker with the mechanics of their operation, the organisation in Wellington has retained much of the power.

That's because they will still contract the players -- the vital fuel that makes these rugby machines tick.

Without the players, there was little incentive for any profit-driven entrepreneurs to plunge their cash into the operation. Although the Crusaders didn't even try - they probably knew it was futile - to use their highly-regarded brand to bring in an offshore investor, the reality is they were hog-tied by what they could offer.

In the final wash-up this announcement was all rather bland. No wonder an official press conference wasn't even staged.

It is inevitable Hamish Riach will accept the deal to be the Crusaders chief executive.

And no-one will be too surprised if the same faces that have represented the Crusaders and Canterbury boards over the years are selected to new board by the appointments committee comprising former Canterbury Rugby Football Union chairman David Rhodes, NZRU board member Graham Cooney and Christchurch accountant Gill Cox.

Providing everything goes to plan, Francis should not be required to dip into the loot he began accumulating since he started mining for coal in Southland in the 1980s.

Yesterday he steered clear of the media by working at his head office in the Hazeldean Business Park in Addington. He's not one to seek the limelight.

But what is known is about Francis is that he loves rugby.

Given the way he has helped the provincial consortium to put their licence bid together he should be offered free season tickets at the Crusaders' home games for as long as wishes.

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One thing is certain: he is not doing this to make a buck.

- The Press

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