The New Zealand RFU set a new benchmark for rugby sponsorship yesterday with a provisional deal with the German sportswear manufacturer Adidas, which values the famous All Black jersey at over #30 million.

Some reports from New Zealand indicated that Adidas had paid #43m for the privilege of placing their logo alongside the silver fern. The NZRFU refused to say exactly how much the five-year deal was worth, but confirmed that it was in excess of the #28.1m that arch-rivals Nike had laid on the table.

Adidas, who also won the contest to become kit suppliers to the British Lions in South Africa this summer, have gazumped Nike and long-time All Black kit suppliers Canterbury, a New Zealand firm which shot from obscurity on the basis of its relationship with the All Blacks.

Under the terms of the existing agreement, Canterbury still have the opportunity to match or better the Adidas offer, but yesterday's decision by the NZRFU that it would endorse the German bid indicates that they consider such a turn of events to be highly unlikely.

NZRFU chief executive David Moffet said that the offer from Adidas set a new world record for rugby sponsorship. ''This is the single biggest offer that rugby has ever had put before it worldwide,'' he said.

The Adidas agreement is due to come into force in 1999 before that year's World Cup, which on current form the All Blacks would be expected to win. Moffet said that, in their negotiations with Adidas, the NZ union had sought to place the All Blacks on the same global footing as the Brazilian and Italian football teams.

NZ board member Kevin Roberts said the Adidas offer would be, by far, the most beneficial for Kiwi rugby. ''It allows us to develop the game at grass-roots level so that players don't turn to rugby league,'' he said, and in a reference to last week's announcement that All Black Zinzan Brooke would soon be joining Harlequins, Roberts added: ''It means we can keep our game strong. It means we have the resources to keep our players here rather than in England.''

The agreement means that Adidas will become supplier of sports equipment, footwear, clothing and accessories to the All Blacks and New Zealand's five Super 12 sides. The company would also have naming rights to New Zealand's rugby academy which grooms young talent.

Primarily, though, Adidas become primary sponsors to the All Blacks, who remain undefeated after eight Tests this year.

US-based Nike, arch-rivals of Adidas, have recently taken over sponsorship of the Springboks and a fortnight ago signed a #10m deal with England. They also sponsor the Brazilian soccer team and part of that agreement means that the Brazilians are required to play exhibition games.

Moffet said that the proposal from the German company meant that the All Blacks would not be required to play exhibition games, unlike one of the other offers on the table. ''We've sold nothing out here. We have total control over the property, but we've linked with one of the world's great partners to provide us with competitive advantage on the field,'' he said.

The scale of the Adidas agreement renders obsolete all previous guidelines for rugby sponsorship. A fortnight ago the Scottish Rugby Union, which already has a kit agreement with Pringle, signed a deal with team sponsor the Famous Grouse.

The whisky company's logo will appear on the playing jersey for the first time, but the sums involved are small beer compared to the Adidas-All Black deal.

The Nike agreement with England means that the English jersey will undergo yet another redesign. Moffet said yesterday that, under the terms of the Adidas agreement, the austere, stark and slightly sinister NZ shirt would remain unchanged.

''The deal that we've done reflects the brand value of the All Blacks. Certainly this puts us ahead of everyone else in world rugby. But the appearance of the All Blacks will not change. Black, black, black. We'll remain the men in black,'' said Moffet.