Former All Blacks flyhalf Lima Sopoaga says the lure of playing for the national team is no longer enough to stop players moving to Europe in their prime.
For years, New Zealand Rugby has been able to hold on to its best players by refusing to consider players based abroad, as opposed to its southern hemisphere rivals who have all made exceptions.
However, Sopoaga, who moved from the Highlanders to Wasps this season, has warned of a growing exodus of players who would be willing to give their prime to clubs in the northern hemisphere in return for lucrative contracts.
‘I do think that things are starting to change and players are starting to wise up,’ Sopoaga told the Daily Mail. ‘They realise that it’s a business these days. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it, but when you don’t, clubs aren’t going to be afraid to cut you.
‘I think it is a pattern. For a lot of guys like myself, who come from big families, from low socio-economic backgrounds, the chance to change your family’s life is pretty overwhelming. It’s not something you should take lightly.
‘Sometimes the jersey is not enough for a better life. It is special when you do get it, the experiences you do have are pretty surreal, but down the track, those things don’t pay for a roof over your head.’
Charles Piutau, who earned 16 Test caps for the All Blacks, seemed to have set a precedent when he abandoned his international future for a contract with Pro14 side Ulster via a stint with Wasps.
The utility back is now the highest paid player in world rugby, on a massive £1-million a year with the newly promoted Bristol Bears.
‘I think he’s one of 12 or 14, so you can easily see why the riches of Europe are so appealing for young guys,’ Sopoaga added. ‘Rugby doesn’t last forever and I think younger guys are becoming more aware of that. I think that’s a good thing.
‘For me, having my daughter changed things – how I looked at rugby, how I looked at life. Having her, the picture was changed; where I wanted to head, what I wanted to do, how I wanted to set up my future. Rugby isn’t forever, it can all be taken away from you, that all came into consideration.
‘Every kid growing up in New Zealand wants to be part of the All Blacks. It is pretty special, but at the same time, it was time to try something else. I made peace with the decision.’
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