Wellington - World Rugby's proposed 'League of Nations' competition will kill off interest in the Rugby World Cup, former All Blacks coach Graham Henry warned on Friday amid a player revolt over the plan.
READ: World Rugby doing a fine job of killing world rugby
Henry, who steered New Zealand to World Cup victory in 2011, was dismissive about the blueprint, which will reportedly involve 12-nations playing annually in a competition along the lines of football's UEFA Nations League.
"The players don't want it, they're overplayed now, so it's not going to happen," he told TV3.
Henry predicted rugby's showpiece tournament, which is played once every four years, would not survive if the proposal went ahead.
"It's going to kill the Rugby World Cup because you're going to have a mini-World Cup every year, so people are going to lose interest," he said.
International Rugby Players has also put out a strongly worded statement condemning the plan, with president and world player of the year Johnny Sexton saying it places commercial interests ahead of player safety.
New Zealand players' association chief executive Rob Nicol said players felt they had been "dismissed and disrespected" by World Rugby as it reportedly contemplates a 12-year deal with a major broadcaster to set up the competition.
Aside from player welfare, Nichol said other key concerns were the lack of a promotion-relegation element in the competition and the way it locked out Pacific island nations and emerging powers such as Georgia.
"We're not going to let a commercial land grab happen here at the expense of player welfare and the integrity of the international game," he told Radio Sport.
Pacific Rugby Players chief Aayden Clarke was concerned rugby union would wither in island nations such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga if they were excluded.
"It's going to have a huge impact," he told the stuff.co.nz website.
"We're going to see players withdrawing from Test rugby and signing three- to four-year deals with French or UK clubs," he said.
World Rugby has refused to confirm leaked details of the competition but insists players' concerns are being addressed.
"Now it's out in the open, I think transparency will be good for the process," Nichol said.
"Provided World Rugby take it on board, maybe with a little bit of humbleness, and reach out to the players to get things back on track."