New Zealand's record rugby union win over Australia on Saturday may become an accelerant in a heated dispute between the All Blacks and their bosses over World Cup bonuses.
New Zealand has scored 14 tries and posted more than 100 points in wins against South Africa and Australia over the past two weekends to lead the Tri-Nations championship.
The New Zealand Rugby Union has until Thursday to win players' signatures on Cup contracts and to sign a participation agreement, which is a condition of involvement in the Oct. 10-Nov. 22 tournament. As the All Blacks took the field at Stadium Australia in Sydney on Saturday, their representatives and employers were reportedly bitterly divided on the amount the players should receive if they win the World Cup. One player agent described the parties as "light years apart."
After a series of exchanges, NZRU chief executive Chris Moller downgraded from "confident" to "hopeful" his view the dispute would be resolved this week. Moller took to Sydney a bonus offer increased from NZ$40,000 to NZ$50,000 (US$23,600 to US$29,500), describing the upgrade as a mark of the union's good faith.
The players are still holding out for bonuses of around NZ$120,000 (US$70,800) apiece.
One agent, some speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Sunday that the bonus dispute will definitely not be settled by Thursday and the players might then take legal action to prevent the NZRU from selecting other players in their stead.
Agent David Jones said the players have received legal advice they have no obligation to sign contracts which contain provisions contrary to their interests.
There is player anger over the union's "sign or else" approach to early negotiations and its perceived efforts to mobilize public opinion against the players.
Jones accused the union of "posturing and saber rattling."
Public opinion may have shifted in the players' favor since the 52-16 win over South Africa and 50-21 disposal of Australia in Tri-Nations matches.
Radio talkback callers Sunday expressed the view that a World Cup success, particularly if it followed a win in the Tri-Nations and the recapture from Australia of the Bledisloe Cup, would be worth as much as the players are asking.
The NZRU estimates it will receive NZ$900,000 (US$531,000) from Cup organizers and an additional NZ$2.5 million (US$1.47 million) from its major sponsors if it wins the World Cup. But it says the sponsorship revenue had already been committed and any cup windfall would be used to offset the US$1.53 million cost of participation. Players representatives have asked for a breakdown of the union's profit estimates.