Rugby: All Blacks great Sir John Kirwan calls for NZRPA leadership change over Silver Lake deal

All Blacks great Sir John Kirwan has called for change in NZ Rugby Players Association leadership over the controversial $465m Silver Lake investment into NZ Rugby.

NZ Rugby and its players appear at loggerheads over the massive offer from the US equity firm, which would receive a 15 percent shareholding in the national sporting organisation.

The deal must be approved by the NZRPA, but players - including All Blacks skipper Sam Cane and Black Ferns Sevens captain Sarah Hirini - are reportedly worried the deal would leave the Māori and Pacific culture associated with national teams open to foreign exploitation.

NZRPA and NZ Rugby are currently in "mediation", but Sir John has told Sky Sport's Breakdown that's not a great starting point for negotiations, hinting it's time for a change in NZRPA leadership.

"The fundamental problem I can see - and I've spoken to some business people and a whole lot of different people about it - I just think the relationship is broken," says Kirwan. "[NZRPA chief executive] Rob Nichol and the NZR.

"How can you start with mediation? You're telling me that's a relationship?

"Maybe we just need a change. NZR has had a change, maybe the RPA need a bit of change, because I just don't think that relationship is working."

When approached by Newshub, Nichol declined to comment, citing the ongoing confidential mediation process.

Former All Black Mark Robinson replaced Steve Tew as NZ Rugby chief executive in January 2020.

Nichol has headed the NZ players' association since 1999 and has become one of world rugby's most powerful figures during that tenure, guiding negotiations through most of rugby's professional era. 

"We're talking about a pivotal moment in the game and yet we're not sitting around the table," says Kirwan.

"People are talking about values and our values in the All Blacks have always been 'We'll sort it out, we will agree to disagree and commit'. I just can't see that at the moment - that's the fundamental issue."

The Silver Lake deal has been sold as an opportunity for NZ Rugby to address fundamental issues that have weakened the game at its grassroots in recent years.

NZ Rugby community rugby manager Steve Lancaster has told Breakdown some of that funding could be used to develop the link between school and club rugby, while strengthening the club network nationwide.

New laws could be trialled to promote player safety, while coach development would also be a priority.

Two years ago, NZ Rugby awarded Sky Sport a five-year rights deal, while also taking a five percent equity stake in the broadcaster, reportedly worth $400 million.

"We have long known that there is mutual benefit when each of us succeeds and we're pleased that NZR is becoming an investor in Sky," said Sky CEO Martin Stewart at the time.