Key Points:

New Zealand's reconditioning gamble appears to have escaped legal action, with Super 14 viewing figures in Australia showing a four per cent rise.

Fox Sports, the Australian pay-per-view broadcaster, warned last year that it would take legal action against the New Zealand Rugby Union if the removal of 22 All Blacks from the first half of the competition resulted in reduced audiences. But the prospect of that threat being followed through is now remote.

Head of marketing at Fox Sports, Adam Oakes, says the four per cent growth in average audiences was disappointing in comparison with previous years in which eight per cent rises have been achieved. But, he said, the poor performance of the Australian sides was probably the major factor in subduing the numbers.

"The Super 14 has been the main provincial competition for Australians for the past 11 years and when 22 All Blacks don't turn up for the first half it takes a bit off the competition," said Oakes. "But that is really hard to quantify and the performances, or lack of, from the Australian teams has probably been a far bigger factor.

"We have had such strong growth in viewing numbers that you always hope you can keep that going. But the Waratahs had a very ordinary season and New South Wales has the biggest population which impacts on viewing figures.

"It's just the way it is in Australia. When teams go well, supporters get in behind them and jump on the bandwagon, but when they struggle, it's a different story."

Oakes said he is not planning to meet with News Limited, the owner of the Super 14 broadcast rights who sold Fox the package to screen games, to air any concerns about the viewing figures.

The sub-standard performances of the Australian sides - the Brumbies were fifth, Force seventh, Waratahs 13th and Reds 14th - has been a saving grace for the NZRU.

While the overall average audiences grew in Australia, official figures from rating agency OzTam show that of the 27 games featuring New Zealand teams during the conditioning window, 18 rated lower than in 2006.

The showpiece clash between the Blues and Crusaders was watched by an average audience of 38,000 which was 48 per cent down on the 2006 figure when star turns Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Ali Williams, Aaron Mauger, Joe Rokocoko and Chris Jack all played.

The Hurricanes game against the Brumbies in 2006 attracted 101,000 Australian viewers but with the former denied Andrew Hore, Jason Eaton, Chris Masoe, Jerry Collins, Rodney So'oialo and Piri Weepu, that number slumped by 31 per cent to 70,000.

The Chiefs versus Hurricanes game suffered a 39 per cent drop, the Crusaders versus Reds was down 10 per cent and the Blues clash against the Reds was down 24 per cent.

A host of games featuring New Zealand teams in South Africa saw almost 100 per cent drops in viewer numbers. That can be mainly explained by the fact games such as the Bulls versus Chiefs and Sharks versus Crusaders were played in New Zealand last year and South Africa this year, changing the kick-off from mid-afternoon Australian time to 2am.

The NZRU declined to comment but would no doubt endorse Fox Sports' view that the failings of the Australian sides affected figures as did the earlier than usual start.

The Blues and Crusaders kicked-off on February 2, a week earlier than last year, when there were various competing events on the same weekend.