Rugby World Cup 2011
IRB not bowing to NZ pressure
Mike Miller (Getty Images)
Auckland - New Zealand players and coaches poured scorn on an International Rugby Board (IRB) warning on Tuesday that future Rugby World Cup tournaments could go ahead without them.
It was inconceivable the sport's showpiece tournament could take place without any of the top sides, members of the squad said.
A row over the future involvement of the All Blacks, arguably rugby union's best-known international team and one of its most successful, started last week when New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chief executive Steve Tew said pulling the top-ranked team from the next World Cup could not be ruled out.
Tew said his organisation lost money every time the quadrennial tournament was staged and received the backing of neighbours Australia.
He added competing at the current World Cup in New Zealand was costing the NZRU more than $10.3 million, casting a shadow over their participation in four years' time.
But IRB boss Mike Miller said while it would be good to have the All Blacks in England in 2015, "everyone is replaceable."
It was a statement that stunned members of the New Zealand team who are preparing to play their quarter-final match in the ongoing tournament against Argentina in Auckland this coming Sunday.
"You can't have a World Cup without the All Blacks, without any of the top nations. They've all got to be there just to make it a legit World Cup," wing Richard Kahui told reporters.
Assistant coach Wayne Smith also rejected Miller's comments, saying the New Zealand public would not stand for it.
"You've just got to see what rugby means in this country to think of it as inconceivable," he said.
"But I haven't thought a lot about it. I'm focusing on Argentina. They're a big enough test for me."
Tew said the bulk of the New Zealand rugby's shortfall came from lost revenue because the annual Tri-Nations competition was shortened in World Cup years so it did not clash with the tournament.
But Miller said that was not an IRB directive, but rather a decision taken by the Tri-Nations countries South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
He added that Tew was on the IRB Council, had been involved in the decision making for several years and knew the economics of the World Cup were to be re-examined after this tournament.
Tew's words were widely interpreted as a starting point for future talks with the IRB, with few believing the NZRU would disappoint their rugby-mad home public, and their players, by pulling out of the World Cup.
"It'd be devastating for our country and our rugby players here as well," All Black hooker Keven Mealamu said last week.