NSW Waratahs chief Greg Harris hopes Bernard Foley’s historic “flexible contract” with the ARU hasn’t set a dangerous precedent in Australian rugby.
Foley on Thursday recommitted to the Waratahs and Wallabies until the end of 2018 but only after being permitted two seasons in Japan as well, in what Harris described as less-than-comfortable negotiations.
The Wallaby five-eighth’s deal frees Foley up to play for a Japanese club – tipped to be the Ricoh Black Rams – after the 2015 World Cup in Britain and again after next year’s Rugby Championship.
Foley dismissed burnout concerns, but Harris didn’t and admitted the Waratahs even had meetings with insurers on Thursday to gauge an understanding of the 25-year-old’s own legal responsibilities amid the real likelihood he could be injured during his “serious amount of continuous football”.
“This probably hasn’t been as comfortable a process as what we would have liked,” Harris said.
“But at the end of the day, the deal was done (already with Foley’s Japanese club) and we’ve got to work with what’s there.
“There was some difficulty involved in trying to arrange the contract around the two stints because the two stints had been agreed to prior to really getting into final discussions about his contract with the Waratahs and the Wallabies.”
While the Waratahs were ultimately delighted to have retained Foley, Harris said the Super Rugby champions didn’t wish to be dictated by player power and wouldn’t be promoting flexible contracts willy nilly.
“Frankly, it’s a case by case,” he said.
“There’s certain players who we’d encourage to do that because, look, we’re facing up to the fact that it’s an international player market.
“Our major competitors in the sporting spectrum in Australia – the AFL and NRL – don’t have that problem that we have.
“I think it’s a sign of maturity as far as the rugby marketplace is concerned that we’re looking at it in this light.
“But at the same time, you want to have a controlled situation with it.
“It can’t be carte blanche.”
Harris said Israel Folau was obviously another marquee player likely to be permitted a flexible contract.
Wallabies backline utility Kurtley Beale and Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis are other off-contract stars likely to seek such privileges.
In team news ahead of Saturday’s crunch match with the unbeaten Hurricanes, rugged forward Jacques Potgieter has been relegated to the bench.
Although he trained strongly on Thursday, Potgieter has been troubled by a sore ankle and coach Michael Cheika has opted to start Pat McCutcheon at blindside flanker on Saturday.
In other changes to the NSW side that lost at home to the Stormers last Saturday, Wallabies star Adam Ashley-Cooper returns to outside centre at the expense of Matt Carraro and Peter Betham replaces Taqele Naiyaravoro on the wing as the Fiji-born powerhouse remains grounded in Australia because of visa restrictions.
The Waratahs are refusing to shed any light on Naiyaravoro’s visa issues despite the cult hero also being in danger of missing the titleholders’ vital upcoming matches in South Africa.
“At this stage, his visa application is still being processed by the Department of Immigration and we are conscious that a lot of commentary around this may adversely affect his application,” a Waratahs spokesperson said.
“As such, our official response is Taqele’s visa application has been received by the Department of Immigration and the process is ongoing.”