All Blacks and Harlequins strike a sabbatical deal

by AFP

New Zealand Rugby announced a partnership with English club Harlequins Friday that could reportedly see star All Blacks on international sabbaticals playing for the London-based side.

NZR chief executive Steve Tew said the deal was "new territory" for his organisation and would help it tap into commercial opportunities among London's large expatriate Kiwi community.

"This alignment will create significant opportunities for both sides, with players, coaches and staff able to learn from different environments with different people, challenges and cultures," Tew said in a statement.

The statement said NZR would co-operate on "playing and coaching resources", as well as leveraging commercial opportunities, but offered scant detail on how the deal would work in practice.

Sabbaticals have become standard for top All Blacks looking to freshen up in recent years as NZR attempts to stop cashed-up overseas clubs poaching its talent.

The deal is also likely to see Harlequins coaches and players heading to New Zealand to gain experience playing southern hemisphere rugby.

"The All Blacks are the benchmark of excellence for all teams, so to be able to align with them both on and off the pitch will be of significant benefit to the club," chief executive David Ellis said.