All Blacks feature in French frenzy

French Top 14 club Agen is set to go on an ambitious signing spree that could net a couple of New Zealand’s finest export products – Byron Kelleher and Nick Evans.

According to a report in the Herald on Sunday the ambitious French outfit wants to build a super club and are close to signing the All Black scrum-half, Kelleher, and fellow halfback Evans (fly-half).

According to the report Agen is determined to sign up a couple of All Blacks for their number nine and number 10 jerseys for next season.

Initially they targeted Carlos Spencer, but when he stayed loyal to Northampton, they switched their attention to Evans.

The Highlanders’ pivot is off contract after the World Cup and is expected to sign with Agen. According to the Herald’s sources the French club has offered him about Euro330,000 (about NZ$630,000) a season.

Kelleher, a friend of former All Black prop Kees Meeuws who is currently at the club, is thought to have signed a deal conditional on Agen securing other international players.

French clubs are going crazy for New Zealand players, with almost every major club offering unprecedented cash in the hope of luring All Blacks.

Also heading to France after the World Cup is Anton Oliver who has signed with one of the major outfits.

Luke McAlister has been approached by Toulouse and Biarritz and a host of other clubs.

Doug Howlett and Ali Williams have been bombarded with offers from French clubs in recent weeks and other experienced Super 14 men are receiving offers to play in France that some agents can barely believe.

The explosion of interest from France has been fuelled by a broadcast deal being negotiated to televise the hugely popular French club championship, a deal that will make it possible for owners to make money from the sport.

Wealthy benefactors have been attracted to rugby and have pumped serious cash into both established and emerging clubs. The enormous publicity and kudos earned by Toulon when they secured Tana Umaga on a short-term deal has also inspired other owners to chase legendary All Blacks.

While top All Blacks have always been able to earn major contracts in France, the numbers being bandied around in recent weeks suggest the values have taken a serious leap.

Whereas a test star could hope for maybe Euro230,000 to Euro260,000 a few years back, now they are looking at Euro300,000 to Euro350,000 a season.

With Chris Jack close to signing a deal with Saracens and Aaron Mauger already signed with Leicester, the New Zealand Rugby Union will be keen to hold on to McAlister, Howlett and Williams.

David Jones, who represents Howlett and Williams, says at this stage neither of his clients is thinking about an overseas move.

“We have had offers pouring in for both Doug and Ali but neither player has requested them,” Jones told the Herald.

“We had a French club inquire about Doug just the other day but we are not in discussion with any club.”

McAlister’s position is less clear with his father, Charlie, intimating that there are several factors to consider.

Negotiations about a contract extension are progressing with the NZRU but against that, McAlister is weighing up whether it might be better to take a European sabbatical in 2008 and return to New Zealand in time to try to win back a place in the All Black squad for the 2011 World Cup.

“There are plenty of options but Luke is focusing on playing as well as he can for the Blues at this stage and keeping himself in the All Black frame,” said McAlister senior.

“Hopefully he will have made a decision by the end of the month or early next month.”

At just 23, McAlister has an enormous future and the ability to become a fixture in the All Black No.12 shirt.

Losing McAlister would be a massive blow as he would be one of the most promising All Blacks to head overs

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