New Zealand in disarray for Test season

New Zealand is facing a “civil war” between players and provincial unions just over a month before the All Blacks host England in a two-Test series.

According to several reports in New Zealand, major players are threatening to create a breakaway body to govern the professional game in the country.

This is in response to a dispute with provincial unions over proposed governance reforms. The players association, led by prominent players such as Sam Cane and Richie McCaw, has sent a letter setting out their demands.

The dispute began after a review last year criticized the current management of New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and suggested major changes, including the appointment of independent directors. The players association requested this review following concerns about a deal with US private equity firm Silver Lake.

Provincial unions have since proposed an alternative plan that players say does not implement the necessary changes. The players’ association warns that if this alternative plan is approved at a meeting on May 30, they will split from NZR and form their own governing body. This new body, potentially called the “Professional Rugby Tribunal”, would deal with all professional aspects of the game, such as media rights and player contracts, while NZR would continue to manage amateur and community rugby.

At the center of the conflict is the fight for control: the provincial unions want to maintain influence over NZR board appointments, while the actors seek an independent board that represents all stakeholders, including themselves and the arm NZR commercial.

Players’ association chief executive Rob Nichol stressed the need for excellence and change, saying provincial unions no longer represent all stakeholders in New Zealand rugby and players are determined to bring about the necessary reforms.

“The strength of New Zealand rugby is that we’ve always been in the same boat, we’ve always been one team,” Nichol said.

“But I have to be honest, we have felt in recent times that players and teams have continued to strive for excellence on the field and achieve the results that we all want, but off the field we have not been where we should be. We want excellence and we are somewhat ruthless about it. When a panel of experts comes and agrees with us that there has to be a change, then our response is: “we want a change.”

“What the report subtly points out is that provincial unions are no longer the game in this country; There are many other stakeholders and they need to be taken into account in the process. But make no mistake, we will make it.”

The All Blacks will host England in Dunedin and Auckland in July.

Photo: MICHAEL BRADLEY / AFP