New Zealand Rugby is digging in for the fight to retain All Blacks superstars Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick after the next World Cup.
But even they are not prepared to offer any assurances that their two most sought-after players can be retained to provide the experienced core for the next World Cup cycle through to 2023.
The international market, led by France and Japan, is simply at a level that NZ Rugby cannot hope to match. That, says chief executive Steve Tew, makes it increasingly difficult for experienced All Blacks to be re-signed so far out from the next global event.
NZ Rugby accepts there will be a post-RWC exodus of veteran figures following the global event in Japan next year. That's now a given in the four-year contracting cycle.
That will likely see skipper Kieran Read, who has already confirmed his intention to finish up as an All Black after Japan, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Waisake Naholo, Owen Franks, Sonny Bill Williams and Dane Coles depart. They have served their time and made their dues.
But it's that group of hardened experienced players still in their mid to late-20s who become important. Men such as Barrett, Retallick, Codie Taylor, Sam Whitelock, TJ Perenara, Sam Cane and Ardie Savea who could potentially go through to the next RWC.
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