Rugby: New Zealand Rugby and Players’ Assocation still at odds over proposed $465m Silver Lake deal

Mediation between New Zealand Rugby powerbrokers and the Players’ Assocation over the proposed Silver Lake deal will stretch into next week after initial talks did not reach a resolution.

The national body and Players’ Association chief executive Rob Nichol met in Wellington on Wednesday to begin the process of attempting to work through a major standoff over the $465 million offer for 15 per cent of NZ Rugby’s commercial rights from US investment giants Silver Lake.

The deadlock comes after the Players’ Association detailed a long list of concerns to New Zealand Rugby in late January in a letter, signed on behalf of several leading All Blacks including captain Sam Cane, that stipulated they would not approve the deal.

Mediation has, therefore, been required to break the impasse.

Constitutionally NZ Rugby requires 50.01 per cent support from the 26 provincial unions, and the Players’ Association approval, to push ahead with the minority stake sale.

While no resolution has yet been reached, NZ Rugby boss Mark Robinson was positive about the prospect of continued talks next week.

“We’ve got a couple of days set down for next week and we’ll understand better at the end of that,” Robinson said on Thursday at the Ponsonby rugby club while announcing Bunnings will take over as the new provincial sponsor.

“We have 160,000 players in this country and we have a country of five million people who care incredibly deeply about the game. We understand we have a duty of care to everyone associated with the game at the moment and we’re taking that responsibility really seriously.

“We’ll keep talking with all our stakeholders. There’s ongoing conversations with our provincial unions and our players and they’re all really constructive and they’re all fair and reasonable and the right thing to be doing.”

Asked specifically for his view about whether raising capital via public bonds was a viable alternative to the potential risks associated with private equity, as the Players’ Association suggested in their letter, Robinson said:

“We’ve shared our views with Rob around that. That letter was something that came to us two months ago. A lot of time has passed. When we caught up with the players earlier in the week they had moved on so I’m not going to go into details.”

NZ Rugby’s annual general meeting at the end of April will see the provincial unions cast their votes and they are largely expected to favour the deal which would bring them all an immediate cash influx.

Nichol told the Herald on Thursday he was pleased with initial progress, but for now there is no certainty the Players’ Association will support the deal.

Robinson is optimistic of getting the deal across the line by the end of this month.

“We are working to the AGM as the most hopeful timeframe to make a decision but in between now and then there’s lots of meetings and different levels of consultation going on constantly,” Robinson said.

“We’ve been in clubrooms like this, we’ve been around provincial union board rooms and meeting with Rob and the players. That’s part of this process that we’re really committed to.

“When we get to the time of ultimately making a decision we want people to they feel they’ve got all the information and they’re really comfortable so we’re able to get on with it.”

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