N.Z. faces squeeze as players eye offers

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand, April 21 – Rugby union chiefs in New Zealand warned the game was "living beyond its means", amid concerns that cashed-up overseas clubs will poach star All Blacks after this year's Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chairman Mike Eagle on Thursday said the organisation posted a NZ$9.4 million ($7.5 million) loss in 2010 and faced financial pressures at every level.

"Rugby, as a sport, has been living beyond its means for too long," he told the NZRU’s annual general meeting.

"It is incumbent on us to ensure that the rugby organisations we are responsible for do not extend themselves beyond their ability to sustain and support themselves."

Eagle said the NZRU had led a drive for restraint by negotiating to reduce the player salary cap and shoring up the finances of some provincial unions in the country, including the Otago Highlanders and Waikato Chiefs.

But chief executive Steve Tew said that the provinces must do more to rein in costs.

"Rugby union in New Zealand is not sustainable based on the current mode of operation," he said.

Tew said NZ$6.4 million of the 2010 loss was related to costs associated with hosting the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand from September 9 to October 23.

The calls for New Zealand rugby to tighten its purse strings are unlikely to allay All Blacks coach Graham Henry’s concerns about star players being lured overseas by lucrative offers from club sides.

All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw, star fly-half Dan Carter and rugby league convert Sonny Bill Williams are yet to commit to staying on after the tournament.

All three are reportedly weighing up offers from French clubs.

Quizzed on the possibility of McCaw and Carter departing, Henry said he would "love to see them stay" but their future was in their own hands.

"They’ve done a hell of a good job for New Zealand rugby," he said Tuesday after announcing hooker Keven Mealamu had signed a contract until 2013.

"We’re all hoping they’ll stay and continue doing that good job because they’re part of the backbone of the team — they’ve got some big decisions to make."

Henry also expressed frustration at promising players on the fringe of All Blacks selection opting to take up big-money offers from overseas.

"It irritates me that guys (just) under the All Blacks group who have a dream of being an All Black for 25 years all of a sudden get offered NZ$500,000 and bugger off," he said.

"They don’t carry on and fulfil the dream. There’s plenty of time to do all of that other stuff, that’s what irritates me. There are guys I know who’ve gone overseas who’ve regretted it immensely."

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