New Zealand's provinces - long-time supporters and friends of Island rugby - are not prepared to offer ITM contracts to any player they suspect could commit to a Pacific nation at the World Cup.

The unions' stance is not illegal but it is perpetuating a problem World Rugby want to stamp out - which is forcing Pacific Island players to choose between club and country.

The pressure placed on Island-eligible players by clubs around the world to make themselves unavailable for the World Cup is a long-standing and vexed issue.

Stories have emerged at the last five tournaments of players being bullied and threatened by their clubs to not go.


There were even reports after the 2011 World Cup that some Fijians were bribed by their club, Racing Metro, to skip the World Cup.

The situation developing in New Zealand is a concern for players, agents and associations.

While everyone can see the problem from the unions' perspective, a handful of players are likely to be left without club contracts due to their Pacific Island heritage.

Strapped for cash and restricted by a salary cap, unions say they can't afford to take the risk of being liable for players who would miss the entire ITM Cup if they were to be called up by Fiji, Samoa or Tonga.

The World Cup kicks off on September 18 and the ITM Cup is expected to have its usual mid-August start - so with warm-up tests and training camps and the like, it won't be possible for anyone in an international squad to turn out even once for their province.

A handful of younger, emerging players who are dual eligible and currently without a Super Rugby contract are likely to be the most affected.

Some are already on the radar of the Pacific Island nation for which they are eligible and possible selections at the World Cup.

But they want to play in the ITM Cup so they can win Super Rugby contracts and then push to become All Blacks.

Their preferred path is being blocked because unions don't want to take the risk that the players will do what they said they were going to do.

The unions fear they will invest in the contract now and, then a few weeks before the World Cup, the player will change his mind and play at the World Cup.

Provincial unions are compensated - virtually the full amount - for any All Blacks they lose to test duty during the ITM Cup. But there is no such deal in place to cover them for Pacific Island players.

"Most of our players are on New Zealand Rugby contracts and, therefore, have confirmed their eligibility to New Zealand," says Auckland Rugby chief executive Andy Dalton.

"But we have a couple of players who could opt to play for one of the Pacific Island nations and we would have to wear the cost of that.

"We would be liable for the cost of players and we may not get the use of them.

"I don't think we can be expected to pay [in those situations]. We have salary cap issues and we would have a substantial cost of having them not being available."

Dalton says the union will abide by World Rugby regulations: Auckland won't ask any player to sign a document that says they won't play at the World Cup.

However, he says the best way for the union to protect themselves is to simply avoid contracting players whose future circumstances have the capacity to change.

Counties Manukau are taking a similar stance to Auckland. Their chief executive, Andrew Maddock, says it's a case of wait and see with some players in regard to offering them contracts.

Counties will hold off making offers to Island-eligible players until they have clarity about their World Cup intentions.

"We are conscious of how this is for the players," he says. "It puts players at risk because, what if the player is injured while we are waiting to see what happens? That player won't be secure at that point."

Maddock says the situation is generating a level of stress and discomfort, as Counties have strong and meaningful relationships with their Pacific Island players.

"We just don't have any capacity at all to take the risk," says Maddock.

The salary trap how the Cup will affect recruiting

• The World Cup kicks off on September 18 but squads will assemble four weeks before for warm-up tests and training camps.

• ITM Cup likely to start mid-August.

• Unions able to contract players not eligible for New Zealand.

• The minimum value of any contract is $18,000, and that has to be paid regardless of whether the individual plays a single game.

• That payment will count towards the salary cap.

• The union can't spend any more than $1.025 million on salaries.

• The maximum value of any individual contract can't exceed $55,000 a season.

• Provincial unions are reimbursed by the NZRU $50,000 for every contracted All Black on their books who goes to the 2015 World Cup.

• If that All Black becomes available for any reason, the union has to pay back a pro-rata fee to the NZRU to gain access to the player.

• All Blacks unavailable due to test commitments don't count towards the salary cap.