Peter Bills: Rugby clubs are set to lose out in battle with countries
Professional rugby union reached a crossroads this week and it had nothing to do with the Six Nations Championship.
The decision of New Zealand’s best tight head prop forward Carl Hayman to turn his back on his country in favour of a major pay packet from French club Toulon could be the start of a major shift in allegiance for players from country to club.
The Holy Grail for all New Zealanders has been to see the coveted World Cup return to their shores for the first time since they won it in 1987, at the first ever World Cup.
Living with a series of failures at subsequent tournaments has been an agony for every New Zealander, Hayman included. Yet this week, he accepted a lucrative three year deal from Toulon worth 620,000 euros a season (£558,000) to turn his back on the All Blacks.
Hayman knew that he was excluding himself from the World Cup and a possible triumph for his country. Yet ultimately, money was more important to him. In other words, he put club before country.
Of course, Hayman is not the first down this particular road. Back in 1970, Ken Goodall from the City of Derry club, who had won 19 caps for Ireland, turned to rugby league.
In 1991, not long before the World Cup, Brian Smith, the Australian who had become Ireland’s fly half, turned his back on his adopted country to go home and join Sydney rugby league club, Balmain.
This season, there has been an unholy row between Stade Francais, another French club, and England over the non-release to his club of back row man James Haskell.
I suspect we are going to see more and more of this in rugby. And I think it will be those southern hemisphere countries, New Zealand and Australia, who stand to lose most if this becomes a trend.
If a French club (they have by far the most money in Europe) offers a player a fortune, like Toulon with Hayman, how can he seriously say no? In a game so physical your next match might be your last, how can married men like Hayman turn their back on a golden financial future? They would be complete mugs to do so.
After all, you can’t buy groceries with All Black jerseys.
Turning your back on your country, once considered a heinous crime, will I suspect become increasingly common. The clubs are set to win the club v country battle.