'Absolute nonsense': Phil Gifford, Patrick Gower clash in fiery All Blacks Government funding debate

In the wake of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen asking the Prime Minister for taxpayer funding, two equally passionate rugby fans went head to head in a fiery debate.

Sports writer Phil Gifford appeared on Three's The Project on Monday evening to give his perspective on the issue, which has outraged many - including Newshub's national correspondent Patrick Gower.

"The situation, at the moment, is you have a very small country, that is New Zealand, with some astonishingly good rugby players," Mr Gifford explained.

"Then you have some amazingly wealthy club owners in France and the UK, where their rugby players are kind of crap - so they have the money, but not the talent and they want to buy our guys."

He said that while New Zealand Rugby (NZR) does make a lot of money from commercial interests, it is "stretched about as far as they can go". He said that while the organisation gets $2 million a year from taxpayers, Rowing NZ gets $5 million.

It was at this point that guest host Gower interrupted.

"I'm going to step in here, because I think what you and Steve Hansen are saying is absolute nonsense. I can think of nowhere worse for taxpayer money to go than to overpaid professional players on mega-salaries."

He said that money is sorely needed elsewhere, such as paying nurses, police officers and teachers a fair wage - a statement that was applauded by The Project's live audience.

"Jesus, Paddy!" was Mr Gifford's response.

Gower said NZR made a $33 million profit and hauled in a quarter of $1 billion in revenue.

"They do not need one cent of the hard-earned money of the hardworking people of this nation."

Mr Gifford countered that for the next three years, the organisation is predicted to make a $25 million a year loss.

"Don't listen to what he's saying, he's a political reporter," he admonished the audience.

He said "of course" nurses and teachers should be well-paid, but the country's other organisations deserve funding as well. 

"Would you give one cent to NZ Ballet? Would you give one cent to NZ On Air so that local musicians can record songs? Would you give one cent to NZ Opera?"

Host Jesse Mulligan suggested that athletes should want to play for the All Blacks because they're the All Blacks, not for more money.

Mr Gifford said that's what we're doing now, but it's not enough.

"That's the reason guys like Beauden Barrett, who could tomorrow go and earn £1 million a year - $2 million a year - the reason they stay here is because the only way you can play for the All Blacks is to play in New Zealand.

"But the fact is they're earning a hell of a lot less than they would be. If we let them play for the All Blacks while they played in Europe, all of them would be playing in Europe."

Host Jeremy Corbett suggested a deal - if taxpayers help fund the All Blacks, all matches are free-to-air.

"That would be a nice idea if New Zealand had a licence fee," Mr Gifford responded.

Gower then addressed the All Blacks coach directly.

"There's a lot of people in New Zealand who are afraid to stand up to Steve Hansen, but I'm not. Steve, I love you mate, but this is the worst call that you have ever made.

"It is nonsense, you shot off at the mouth and you should really take it back. You're a great coach - stick to it and stay away from taxpayer cash."

Mr Gifford got the last word, saying: "A lot of people in New Zealand are afraid to stand up to Paddy Gower, but I say that is the biggest load of crap I've ever heard from you, even in your political reporting days."


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