IRB chief executive Mike Miller has hit back at NZRU boss Steve Tew's threat to pull the All Black's out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, saying "everyone is replaceable."
Tew revealed last week that the NZRU is set to take a $13.2m hit from the current tournament, which could jeopardise their place at the next World Cup. But when asked on Radio Sport this morning whether the tournament needed New Zealand, Miller responded:
"Does the World Cup need the All Blacks? It would be good for the All Blacks to be there."
When pressed again, Miller said: "Everyone is replaceable."
He said the timing of Tew's comments was "not brilliant" and that the NZRU boss should be aware of the governing body's financial situation.
"He's on the IRB Council, he's been involved in all of the decisions that we've made for the last five or six years, so he knows what's going on.
It's the IRB Council that decides where the money goes," Miller said.
"Of course he doesn't talk about the $12m that the NZRU gets from the IRB over the four-year cycle. 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."
Tew suggested last week that soccer's Fifa World Cup had much more lenient commercial rules, but Miller rejected the idea that All Blacks sponsors that were not associated with the Rugby World Cup couldn't capitalise on the event.
"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 pointed out the money the IRB makes gets distributed to all of the unions, including New Zealand.
"Why did they choose to truncate the Tri-Nations? They didn't have to do that, they could have found another solution. That's not the IRB's doing, that's what they decided to do. They lost money because of that.
"I have huge sympathy for everyone. 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."
The IRB has also come under heavy criticism during the Rugby World Cup over the scheduling of matches and fining Samoa for an inappropriate mouth guard. Miller defended the IRB's treatment of second-tier teams.
"We don't care about the minnows? If that was the case why have we invested tens of millions of dollars over the past five or six years in order to try and make them more competitive? Why did we open up and pay for a high performance centre in Samoa? Why do we pay for the Pacific Rugby Cup, the Pacific Nations Cup, why do we give them coaches, trainers, why do we provide them with gyms with analysis tools?"
He said it is very difficult to create a schedule which is equal for everyone when there are uneven pools of five.
"The tens of millions of dollars that we invest in the so-called minnows comes from Rugby World Cup, from broadcasters who want to have the big games at the weekends. It's better than it was last time and we'll make it better next time.
"There's a simple answer. You can reduce it to 16 teams, then you'll have a more even schedule. But we wouldn't want to do that."