Rugby Union


Players 'crazy' not to consider overseas sabbaticals

Australia's best players would be "crazy" if they did not consider rich sabbatical deals overseas, ACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said, and he believes the ARU's new "flexible contracts" will stop the game from going broke.

But Larkham does fear the Brumbies could suffer if too many of the club's stars negotiate temporary stints in lucrative competitions such as France or Japan.

From 2016, the ARU will allow Wallabies players to spend one season on an international "sabbatical" if they commit to the Wallabies for three or more years.

Super Rugby clubs will also be free to negotiate a deal for one player outside the Wallabies system to cash in on a contract abroad.

Wallabies greats Larkham and George Gregan, who finished their careers in Japan, said the new protocols were in the best interests of the game.

The former Test halves believe such a rule could have kept star players such as George Smith, Ben Mowen and Matt Giteau in Australian rugby.


But Larkham admitted it could come at a cost of playing personnel for Australian Super Rugby teams. The ARU will "exclusively" negotiate the deals with its top players and ensure the Wallabies are "sufficiently strong".

"Everyone will look at [a sabbatical]; they'd be crazy not to," Larkham said.

"The ARU will make a decision on how many and who. It's a way for the ARU to keep the top players ... without becoming bankrupt.

"Depending on how many go, it's slightly concerning because the pre-season for Super Rugby is so short now. Your career in rugby is finite and there's some really good money on offer overseas."

The Brumbies re-signed a host of Wallabies stars this year, including Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano, Nic White, Scott Fardy, Joseph Tomane and Scott Sio.

The challenge will come after the World Cup next year, when cashed-up clubs in France and Japan will look to lure the best players in the world to join their teams.

The ARU has settled on its new protocols, but it is understood it also put forward a proposal that would allow players who had given 50 Tests of service to the Wallabies to spend a year overseas.

Giteau played 92 Tests for Australia before moving to Toulon, regarded as the richest club in the world.

But the former Brumbies playmaker is still playing well enough to warrant selection in the Wallabies.

The cash-strapped ARU has been struggling to match the rich deals of overseas rivals.

The new flexible contracts could play a major role in cross-code superstar Israel Folau staying in rugby, with the lure of playing Sevens at the 2016 Olympic Games also a massive carrot.

In the past, players have only been eligible to play for the Wallabies if they play in Australia, putting the lure of the Test jersey up against big dollars on offer overseas.

Larkham moved to Scotland after retiring from Australian rugby in 2007 and then finished his career with the Ricoh Black Rams in Japan.

Gregan finished his career by playing with Toulon in France and Suntory in Japan. 

"It's a good thing for Australian rugby ... once they clarify the qualifications, it's a great idea," Gregan said.

"If it's managed well it can work for both parties. Players don't miss out financially and they come back refreshed and reinvigorated with that drive again.

"Some people think it's just running away for the cash, but from a financial perspective the players have to be entitled to that and it will help with the financial stress in Australian rugby."