WELLINGTON // The International Rugby Board (IRB) set itself on a collision course with New Zealand over their threat to boycott the 2015 Rugby World Cup yesterday as off-field controversies overshadowed preparations for this weekend's quarter-finals.
On a day when Eliota Sapulo Fuimaono, the Samoan centre, was banned from all rugby, Leonardo Ghiraldini, the Italy hooker, was suspended for 15 weeks and Manu Tuilagi, the England centre was fined, France were first to name their side for this weekend's matches.
But all of this was overshadowed when the IRB ratcheted up the public relations battle with the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU), telling it, it could live without the All Blacks, should they carry out their threat to snub the 2015 tournament.
Last week, Steve Tew, the NZRU chief executive, said it lost NZ$13.2 million (Dh36.7m) in revenue this year because of the World Cup and unless the world governing body changed its commercial model, it would consider not playing in England in four years' time.
"Does the World Cup need the All Blacks? It would be good for the All Blacks to be there," Mike Miller, the IRB chief executive, told local radio yesterday. "Everyone is replaceable."
The All Blacks team, however, said they felt any World Cup without them in it would lack legitimacy.
"You've just got to see what rugby means in this country to think of it as inconceivable," Wayne Smith, the All Blacks assistant coach, said.
Richard Kahui, the utility back, added the World Cup needed all of the top teams to be playing.
"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."
England's Tuilagi was fined NZ$10,000 for wearing a branded mouthguard, a week after his brother Alesana, the Samoa winger, was fined for the same thing.
Fans annoyed at what they considered the harsh penalty for Alesana, raised thousands of dollars towards his fine with a televised "sausage sizzle" in Auckland.
New Zealand's central government also moved to avoid any further embarrassment as the knockout phase kicks into high gear, having budgeted an additional NZ$4m in spending to cope with any potential congestion in Auckland.
The Auckland City council will also contribute another NZ$1m.
Six of the final eight matches are to be held at Eden Park, with fan zones in south Auckland and on the North Shore to be activated to provide a focal point for fans to gather without travelling into central Auckland.
An estimated 200,000 people squeezed on to central Auckland's streets for the opening match on September 9, causing massive delays on public transport that meant some fans missed the game between New Zealand and Tonga.