Brad Shields’ journey from collapsed Wasps back to Wellington and Hurricanes captaincy
When he left the Hurricanes six years ago, Brad Shields never envisioned the tumultuous full-circle ride that will this season culminate in his return to captain his home team.
Shields and his young family are only now, having settled back in Wellington, emerging from the emotional toll of experiencing rugby’s prevalent financial challenges first-hand.
In October 2022, Shields had almost two seasons remaining on his contract when decorated English club Wasps, the two-time European champions, folded nearly overnight.
In the space of three weeks, the tone shifted rapidly from assurances about the club’s future to a blunt message that players could no longer be paid and were, therefore, no longer required. Confronting $70 million (NZD) in debt, Wasps made all 167 employees redundant.
“It was as cutthroat as that,” Shields recalls this week. “As soon as we got told we’re not coming in tomorrow we got paid for the remainder of the month and then you had to figure out your own way.
“It’s a big shock to the system when you’ve got mortgages to pay and families to provide for. You just don’t expect that to happen when you should feel secure.
“You sign a contract in good faith but you don’t get to see all the details behind the scenes about the financials. There’s no regimented way like the France model where you have to meet a certain criterion before you start the season to show you can pay your players.”
Wasps’ sudden collapse left Shields close to six figures out of pocket. He managed to scramble and find a short-term contract with French side Perpignan but uprooting his family, including two kids now aged 6 and 3, amid the turmoil wasn’t pleasant.
Shields’ cautionary tale is far from a one-off in an increasingly volatile global rugby landscape. Fellow English clubs Worcester Warriors and London Irish have since gone under. So, too, four teams – LA Giltinis, Austin Gilgronis, Toronto Arrows, Rugby New York – in America’s Major League competition.
Elsewhere Welsh rugby has been forced into major widespread cutbacks and, closer to home, the Melbourne Rebels have entered voluntary administration. With suggestions the Rebels are $10 million in debt, there are no guarantees they will survive beyond this Super Rugby season.
“You never, ever expect that to happen in rugby and it’s sad to see it happening far too often at the moment,” Shields said. “It was pretty poor the way all the staff and players got treated at Wasps.
“Everyone moves on pretty quickly and it gets washed under the bridge but at the time when you’re seeing grown men crying about a club they’re so passionate about – guys like Joe Launchbury were there 11 years, Dan Robson similar.