Andrew Gourdie: Rieko Ioane's powerful statement

"The black jersey is enough for me and it's enough to keep me here."

It’s impossible to overstate just how powerful those words - from arguably the brightest rugby talent on the planet - could prove to be for New Zealand Rugby in its escalating battle to retain the best players in the country over coming years.

These were not words penned by a communications manager and distributed in a press release. They came candidly, authentically, from the mouth of Rieko Ioane, as he fronted media on Friday, after confirmation of his four-year deal with NZ Rugby through until the end of the 2022 season.

NZR bosses themselves couldn't have written a message more valuable or timely.

Intended or not, Ioane's words provided the perfect response to Lima Sopoaga's claims that more All Blacks like him would join the European exodus, with the cutting words "sometimes the jersey is not enough for a better life".

His comments sparked fear among fans and prompted more hand-wringing from critics.

You can't help but wonder if the seemingly rushed nature of the Ioane announcement, with the All Blacks winger fronting cameras at the Auckland Airport departure hall, may have had something to do with New Zealand Rugby's desire to plant an important stake in the ground and quell the disquiet.

Whatever the case, the statement signing of the Ioane brothers to long-term deals is a clear sign that Sopoaga's view may not be shared as widely as he thinks.

Andrew Gourdie: Rieko Ioane's powerful statement

It's impossible to believe Steve Hansen didn't have Sopoaga's comments in mind when he spoke of Ioane on Friday as well, saying: "The jersey's still important to him and that's a wonderful thing.

"It still means a lot to a lot of young people and older people - that's why they're still here."

I have no issue with Sopoaga - or any other sportsperson for that matter - making the call to end their international career to take up an opportunity that they feel can secure a better future for them and their family.

These people are professionals after all. They do this for a living.

And the Ioanes - both Reiko and Akira - are exactly the type of players Sopoaga was referring to when he said "for a lot of guys like myself, who come from big families… the chance to change your family's life is pretty overwhelming.

"It's not something you should take lightly."

After all, these are the two boys who share a room in a humble home in South Auckland, who had a touring fan stay with them during last year's Lions series.

But it's the jersey that Ioane doesn't take lightly. His re-signing says that the very best players in New Zealand can earn a living and continue doing what they love doing, right here at home.

For those good enough to wear the black jersey week-in, week-out, the jersey is enough.

Here's the thing - five-year-old Johnny from Te Awamutu is not dreaming of pulling on the amber and black of Wasps.

If you ask any young Kiwi kid running around a rugby field on a Saturday morning what they want to be when they grow up, they will all say exactly the same thing - "I want to be an All Black". That's a fact.

And while New Zealand Rugby can retain the very best players in black - the Ioanes, rather than the Sopoagas - that's not changing in a hurry.

Andrew Gourdie is Newshub sports presenter and host of RadioLIVE's Sunday Sport.

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