NEWS
10/03/2011 11:34 EDT | Updated 12/03/2011 05:12 EST

IRB says All Blacks are replaceable in World Cup; All Blacks say they're irreplaceable

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - The All Blacks dismissed the notion by the International Rugby Board that they're replaceable at the World Cup.

Mike Miller, the IRB chief executive, spoke on Radio Sport Tuesday responding to a threat by New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew last week to boycott the 2015 World Cup if sending the All Blacks continued to be a loss-making event.

"Does the World Cup need the All Blacks? It would be good for the All Blacks to be there," Miller said.

When asked again, Miller said: "Everyone is replaceable."

All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith said at their team hotel on Tuesday he couldn't conceive of the World Cup's first champions missing the event.

"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 (in this week's quarterfinals). They're a big enough test for me."

Winger Richard Kahui was in no doubt.

"You can't have a World Cup without the All Blacks, without any of the top nations," he said. "They've all got to be there just to make it a legitimate World Cup."

Tew started the controversial debate last week when he said the NZRU was losing millions of dollars under the IRB's financial structure for the World Cup, and may not consider sending the All Blacks, rugby's biggest drawcard and top-ranked team, to the 2015 World Cup if the IRB did not change its model.

The NZRU was losing NZ$13.2 million ($10 million) around this World Cup, Tew said, because it couldn't involve its sponsors and played less Tri-Nations matches.

Miller said the timing of Tew's comments while New Zealand was hosting a successful World Cup was "not brilliant." Miller added Tew was also aware of the IRB's financial rules as a long-standing member of the IRB council which decides where the money goes.

"Of course, he doesn't talk about the $12 million that the NZRU gets from the IRB over the four-year cycle," Miller said. "We know what the issues are, which is why we had a conference on the economics of the game earlier this year, which Steve Tew was at.

"The conference said after Rugby World Cup, we'd look at the outcomes and whether we'd need to change the model on the commercial rules, the distribution of funds, and on the timing of the World Cup."

Miller also rejected Tew's comments that the All Blacks' sponsors couldn't capitalize on the Cup.

"Have a walk around Auckland if you think that the All Blacks' sponsors aren't still being able to be involved with the All Blacks," Miller said, referring to billboards of sponsored All Blacks all over downtown.

Miller added it was the NZRU's shared decision to shorten the Tri-Nations, and nothing to do with IRB.

"I have huge sympathy for everyone," Miller said. "It's a very tough economic situation at the moment, all of the unions are suffering. We are looking at the issues, we are working with the New Zealand union, the Australian union and everyone else and they ultimately will decide whether they get exactly what they want. It depends on whether they can persuade the other council members."