New Zealand Rugby Union boss Steve Tew has backed comments made by All Black coach Steve Hansen that Australia need to develop their own players.
Hansen kicked off the debate after last weekend's All Blacks' 18-18 draw in Brisbane following a strong performance by New Zealand-born Wallabies fullback Mike Harris. The 24-year-old, who qualifies for Australia due to a grandmother who was born there, was playing his first test against his country of birth.
Hansen, asked in the aftermath of the All Blacks' disappointing performance in the city on Saturday whether New Zealand's talent identification protocols were up to scratch given Harris' departure, bristled.
"I am pleased he [Harris] has achieved his dream ... what I find frustrating is that Australia is trying to build their game and put more franchises in place but all they're doing is putting franchises in place and stealing our players.''
Harris and Australia Rugby Union John O'Neill hit back, comparing Australia's "thefts'' to those by the NZRU in the Pacific.
"The comments from the All Blacks' coach are insulting, ill-informed, and clearly made without reviewing New Zealand's history for fielding players born outside their borders,'' O'Neill told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"I would not even want to guess how many players born in the South Pacific islands have worn the All Blacks' jersey. The reality is there are players who will look for opportunities to play test rugby.''
Tew today said he didn't want to get into a stoush with O'Neill, who is stepping down as ARU boss, but backed Hansen's comments.
"We've got a very clear conscience in terms of the players we have playing the game in this country,'' he said. "The vast majority of players across the board that play rugby in this country out of particularly Samoa, Tonga and to a lesser degree Fiji, are second, third and fourth generation New Zealanders.''
Tew said he didn't have an issue with New Zealand players heading to Australia but that the ARU need to start developing their own players and build on a local competition.
"They've got their own issues in Australia. They need to look very hard at the depth they have in their competition. There was a small irony that last weekend [in Brisbane] I watched three games of rugby coming out of New Zealand, when that finished the test started and when that finished the Currie Cup came on.
"The reality for us is that we want the global game to be strong so we have to accept the fact that our talent, whether it's players or coaches or for that matter anyone else who is involved in the game, will be sought after around the world.
"Ultimately there are over a million New Zealanders living overseas and a vast majority of them are living on the eastern seaboard of Australia so rugby players are no different.''
While Tew was happy to comment on O'Neill's remarks, he stayed away from the other talking point from the Brisbane test _ Scott Higginbotham's two-week suspension for two separate incidents involving All Blacks' skipper Richie McCaw.
Earlier in the week New Zealand Professional Rugby Players' Association chief Rob Nichol told APNZ New Zealand's top rugby players are "bamboozled'' by the inconsistent judiciary.
Tew said he didn't discuss individual cases.
"We've stayed out of that debate and there's a formal process where we have an opportunity to feed into that, not around specific issues but around the overall performance of our regulations and we'll take our thoughts about that into those discussions rather than deal with individual issues.''