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Ex-All Black John Kirwan leads passionate plea for public Silver Lake feud to reach its end

BY Stephen Brunsdon  ·  Friday May 21, 2021

The most recognisable side in world rugby and perhaps the biggest franchise in sport, the All Blacks, are in the middle of a media storm amid a public feud between New Zealand Rugby and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association.

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The drama surrounds the All Blacks’ revenue and the stakes involved in the Union, which would see New Zealand Rugby (NZR) sell five percent of its stake in future revenue through a stock market listing, which sources claim could raise up to $650m.

Additionally, Silver Lake, an American Private Equity firm would buy a 12.5% stake, but that is where things took a turn for the worse and came into the public domain.

The NZRPA is firmly opposed to foreign ownership of the All Blacks and has railed against any moves towards that happening, and the association and the NZR have engaged in a mud-slinging in recent weeks, forcing ex-New Zealand head coach Sir Steve Hansen to break his silence on the matter.

Speaking as part of the panel on Sky New Zealand’s The Breakdown show, former All Black John Kirwan voiced his opinions.

“Where I’m disappointed is the fact that both [the NZR and the NZRPA] have thrown out their trojan horses, players talking about values, losing the values and selling the game out, [then there’s] NZR not telling us what they’re going to do with the money,” he said.

Kirwan also said he was disappointed at a lack of solidarity between players who came out in support of the NZRPA – including Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith – when it emerged that the boss of the NZRPA Rob Nichol leaked to the media news that the owner of Forsyth Barr – which owns the sponsorship rights to the Highlander’s stadium in Dunedin – had also put in an offer equal to the amount of Silver Lake.

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“No-one is going to win this argument, we’re just going to look like fools around the world. If you’re Silver Lake, why haven’t you walked away? Someone needs to get out of the negotiating room, and it sounds like it should be Rob Nichol and the current boss of the NZR, because it looks like they are clashing, and it looks like it’s not working.”

As the game increases in popularity, more and more private equity firms are becoming interested parties in investing in the sport, with CVC taking stakes in the Guinness Pro14 and the 6 Nations. CVC previously owned Formula One and was largely unpopular during that tenure.

While the deal appears to be at an impasse currently, the next few weeks will likely be crucial to the future of the All Blacks as an entity, and might also have wider knock-on impacts for the game of rugby longer term.

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