Brad Lewis: Steve Hansen's cash plea signals far bigger issues for All Blacks

OPINION: Steve Hansen's cheeky comment on funding assistance for New Zealand Rugby has created quite the stir, with sports fans and political aficionados going head-to-head over the issue.

Obviously, the All Blacks coach was motivated to use such a public forum to air his frustrations by the ever-growing player drain to Europe and Japan.

Gone are the days that a 30-plus-year-old former All Black, looking for a financial retirement package at the end of their international career, jets off to Toulon for croissants and red wine.

Names like Charles Piutau, Steven Luatua, George Moala, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow should still be wearing the black jersey of New Zealand - but chose to cash in on their talents and head overseas.

Charles Piutau.
Charles Piutau. Photo credit: Getty
Stephen Luatua.
Stephen Luatua. Photo credit: Getty
Lima Sopoaga.
Lima Sopoaga. Photo credit: Getty

No-one would begrudge these players - or the 150 other Kiwis plying their rugby trade for foreign clubs - but the issue lies with the reason why.

New Zealand Rugby quite simply can't compete with the cash rich clubs of Europe and Japan.

It's not even a contest. If Beauden Barrett decided tomorrow that he wasn't happy with the financial structure of his contract and declared himself a free agent of sorts, he would command a salary close to NZ$2 million a year - maybe more.

That time could very well come after the 2019 World Cup. You can almost guarantee that at least one of Barrett, Richie Mo'unga or Damian McKenzie will be playing abroad in 2020.

The money will be far too enticing, especially for a guy like Barrett, who could become a two-time world champion.

The only power Hansen and CEO Steve Tew possess is that of the All Black jersey itself. Play in New Zealand or you won't be considered for a selection.

If they loosen the reins, the floodgates will open. Yes, the All Blacks will still be strong, but our domestic game will be full of first XV players, and Super Rugby would crash and burn.

Look at South African rugby.

Four years ago, they decided to allow players to leave and still be available for national selection. Of the 15 Springboks who started against the All Blacks in the 2015 World Cup semi-final, only two remain in Super Rugby.

Some believe the NZR are holding players to ransom with their selection policy, but it's truly their only means of survival to keep the ABs at the top of the rugby world.

Hansen wants more help to ensure players like Mo'unga are not lost to a Bristol or Stade Francais.

Sure, Mo'unga wants to be a great All Black, but so did Piutau, Luatua and Sopoaga - all have left our shores far too soon.

Let's not forget the money the previous Government pumped into Team New Zealand for three consecutive America's Cup challenges, all in the name of national pride.

There were no guarantees that Grant Dalton and his cohorts would bring the Cup home, thus creating new jobs, a better-looking viaduct and some cool merchandise. Yet the Government was still willing to throw Team NZ a finnancial bone.

Peter Burling with the America's Cup.
Peter Burling with the America's Cup. Photo credit: Getty

The one guarantee in New Zealand sport is that the All Blacks are winning more often than not. What better avenue for advertising the wonderful country we have the privilege of living in than our national identity.

Hansen's message may have been a little forceful – but ultimately he can see the murky waters ahead.

Who will be the next Piutau or Luatua that gives up their dream for financial security?

That's the question Hansen wants to answer - he wants to solve the problem before it becomes one.

Patrick Gower's argument that the money is better served propping up the salaries of teachers, police and nurses is an undoubted truth.

But if we are willing to find a chunk of cash in the hope a sail-boat brings home the world's oldest trophy, why can't we throw a few coins into the NZR's war chest?

Brad Lewis is a digital sports producer for Newshub.