The £100million plan to make the All Blacks even stronger
Silver Lake made the investment with ten-year intentions, but with just two of the nine seats on NZR’s commercial arm board, they will have no influence over the administration of rugby or the scheduling of matches. There will be no more games involving New Zealand – including against England, although the two countries have played only once outside the World Cups since 2015.
“As for the All Blacks playing more games through this partnership; it was never part of the model or the aspiration,” NZR chief executive Mark Robinson told Telegraph Sport. “We’ve always talked about playing the same rugby – potentially less, but creating more value around him.”
Inevitably, any discussion around brand equity and marketing strategies will set off alarm bells among the game’s traditionalists, especially in New Zealand, where sensitivities around the sport run all the more intensely.
Silver Lake has taken steps to address these concerns, including identifying youth participation on Sunday mornings as a key area for grassroots growth. And, perhaps, to try to soften rugby’s boozy culture into a more family-friendly culture, with the hope of rejuvenating antiquated clubhouses.
“Community and grassroots rugby is facing significant challenges around the world,” says Robinson. “In New Zealand we have recognized this for a few years but we haven’t always had the resource [to help].
“Over time, as we aggressively grow our revenue, we will create more resources so that we can invest even more in this area of the game.
“The facilities, the administrators, the volunteer support, the development of the coaches, the school system (especially secondary) – we are confident in Silver Lake’s ability to support this. They did some fantastic initial thinking about how they might be able to support community play.
Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, can call on his extensive Northern Hemisphere rugby experience to add an extra perspective.
“I did a bike ride last summer around 53 rugby clubs in the Scarlets area and it really made me realize how desperate some of these clubs are in terms of funding,” said Fitzpatrick , member of the board of directors of Scarlets. “If we don’t have the base, the players will end up not imposing themselves. It is a problem and money can help solve this problem – in addition to expertise. You can’t just throw money at it.
So, with Silver Lake expertise worth £100m, can we really expect the world’s greatest rugby nation to get even bigger?
“I don’t really see it that way,” adds Robinson. “We all have a lot of work to do. We know that the rest of the world is working very hard to improve. We know that some of the thinking that has been done in the northern hemisphere, in terms of investment, has had a positive impact.
Fitzpatrick adds: “NZR is very aware that the game is moving north quite quickly. We have to make sure that we don’t take our position in world rugby for granted, that we are at the top. It’s important that we don’t just sit back and let the game develop [elsewhere without us].”
Always a pioneer in the field, New Zealand is also becoming one.