close
close
blog

New Zealand rugby prepares for a new civil war with the players

New Zealand barely survived its latest civil war back in 2021, when the country’s professional players refused to back their employer’s request to approve a private equity deal with US fund manager Silver Lake.

It was a tense and damaging moment for the sport. New Zealand Rugby was trying to force a deal that was illegal and then publicly portrayed the players as greedy and self-serving by blocking it.

The fight was protracted and ugly, and not only dragged rugby’s reputation into the mud, but left All Blacks coach Ian Foster in the odious position of being in charge of a group of disgruntled, warring players. with your employer.

Initially, the Foster era was plagued with problems – wrong assistant coaches, inconsistent selections and Covid impacts – but one factor that may have been underestimated in undermining the coach was the year-long civil war between the players and NZR over Silver. Lake Offer.

Sam Cane and Sam Whitelock
All Blacks leaders Sam Cane and Sam Whitelock were involved in talks between the RPA and NZR the last time the topic came up (Photo Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Players were more interested in protecting the entire game from what they thought was bad business than most observers believe. The struggle to prevent an initial agreement from being reached, and then the protracted negotiation to arrive at a new, acceptable offer, was not only time-consuming and distracting, but damaging because it broke trust and left the All Blacks isolated and cautious. from the same people who pay their salaries.

People like Sam Cane, Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith were directly involved in discussions between the Rugby Players Association and NZR, preparing for test matches and at the same time trying to change the course of history.

When a deal was finally reached in June 2022 to sell an equity stake in NZR’s trading assets to Silver Lake, it seemed like that was the moment the civil war ended.

But it was more a case of hostilities being put on hold, as the RPA made it a non-negotiable requirement for any agreement to be signed that NZR agree to commission a comprehensive and independent review of the game’s governance structure.

When the review produced its 134-page report last August, it was emphatic that the entire system was outdated, plagued by political infighting and completely unfit for purpose.

Players felt that the Silver Lake episode, in addition to the way Super Rugby was unilaterally dissolved and damaging relationships with key partners such as Australia and South Africa, the game needed to consider the quality of people it attracted to positions of influence. .

The arrival of Silver Lake had also created a different business structure in which a new entity had been formed to house and manage all business assets and report to NZR, so it was necessary to determine whether the provincial union system that had so much control and representation on the national body’s board remained fit for purpose.

When the review produced its 134-page report last August, it was emphatic that the entire system was outdated, plagued by political infighting and completely unfit for purpose.

He proposed a new NZR director appointment system that was fully independent: that is, an independent appointment panel would appoint nine independent directors.

Scott Robertson and Mark Robinson
New coach Scott Robertson had hoped to rebuild bridges between the All Blacks and NZR, but chief executive Mark Robinson now has a major problem on his hands (Photo Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The review said the board would need to have a broader and more complex range of experiences and skills to ensure it was able to govern all aspects of the game – from schools to clubs, to Super Rugby, the All Blacks and that it needed have a deeper business vision given the new setup with Silver Lake.

The report was widely regarded (by NZR, provincial unions, RPA, Super Rugby clubs) as a highly credible piece of work and all bodies said they supported its conclusions.

However, it took nine months of negotiations and bitter disputes between NZR and the provincial unions to fail to reach an agreement on what to do to implement it.

And the result is that NZR has put forward a detailed proposal for governance change that is largely in line with the review, while the unions have created their own version that, according to independent analysis, does not align with the key recommendations and In fact, it will make the provinces even more powerful.

The saga has reached a boiling point with the RPA dropping a bombshell by declaring it will create its own entity to manage professional rugby if the provinces vote for their own proposed governance change.

These two proposals will be put to the vote at an extraordinary general meeting on May 30 and, for either of them to be approved, they will need a two-thirds majority. The only members with voting rights are the provincial unions.

This entire saga to get to this point has played out in the media with negative and distracting headlines, which have obscured the fact that Super Rugby is enjoying a strong resurgence with high quality games, more time on the ball in play and more competitive teams.

And now the saga has reached a boiling point ahead of the vote, with the RPA dropping a bombshell by declaring that it will create its own entity to manage professional rugby if the provinces vote for its own governance change proposal (known as Proposal 2).

In a strongly worded letter sent to all unions, as well as New Zealand rugby clubs, Super Rugby and the Māori Rugby Board, the RPA said that if the provinces vote in favor of Proposition 2, it will withdraw, through of their collective bargaining agreement, the right for NZR to govern the game.

Aaron Smith leads Haka
If the provincial vote is approved, the RPA will no longer allow NZR to use the image rights of its players (Photo Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

The letter said: “The adoption of Proposition 2 will result in the NZRPA being forced to establish a new governance arrangement for professional rugby in New Zealand.

“New Zealand professional rugby players will not be governed by the failed governance processes and outcomes that currently exist in New Zealand.

“The adoption of Proposition 2 (or the status quo) entrenches these failed processes and leaves professional players with no choice but to establish alternative governance arrangements for professional gaming in New Zealand.

“The adoption of Proposition 2 will be a clear signal to professional players that PUs believe rugby in New Zealand should be governed by PUs for PUs.”

What that effectively means is that the RPA will no longer allow NZR to use the image rights of its players.

It looks like Robertson is about to be handed a poisoned chalice for trying to prepare a team for a series of tests while the game is imploding and the current and former All Blacks are trying to save the game from self-destruction.

Players will play normally but will not recognize NZR authority. Instead, the RPA says it will form a new entity provisionally called the Professional Rugby Tribunal, whose directors will be appointed by the RPA, the Super Rugby clubs, New Zealand Rugby Commercial and NZR, and that tangata whenua (managing the game for Māori) will be inherent.

And so, once again, the game in New Zealand is about to experience civil war, just as the All Blacks are due to play their first Tests of the year against England.

New coach Scott Robertson was hoping for a fresh start in 2024: to be in control of a team that had a strong, respectful working relationship with its employer and no off-field distractions.

He hoped to rebuild the bridges between the All Blacks and NZR – get them working together again rather than against each other.

But like Foster, it looks like he is about to be handed the poisoned chalice of trying to prepare a team for a series of tests while the game is imploding and the current and former All Blacks have to try to save the game from self-destruction.

Julian Savea
England lost the Test series 3-0 on their last tour of New Zealand in 2014 (Photo Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

It’s a wild scenario that could continue for months, if not longer, if indeed provincial unions vote in favor of Proposition 2 or neither option gains enough support to be approved in the constitution.

The RPA has stressed that it does not want to split, but: “The adoption of Proposal 2 is a rejection of our desire that together we pursue an NZR board with a mandate to govern the game for the entire rugby community and, indeed, , all New Zealanders.”

Once again, rugby in New Zealand is about to see chaos erupt and the All Blacks be affected by internecine politics.

England, who they will face in Dunedin on July 6 and in Auckland a week later, have not won a Test in New Zealand since 2003, but given the possibility of them arriving as civil war breaks out, the odds of them breaking are becoming reducing. that long streak of defeats.

Related Articles

Back to top button