New Zealand's much-anticipated battle with England this November has been spiced by the revelation the two countries are at war over Brad Shields.
England want to select the Hurricanes flanker for their three-test series in June against South Africa but New Zealand Rugby (NZR) don't want to let him go and believe they have legal authority to deny Shields from playing.
The drama looks set to rumble during the next six weeks and it would seem that the two nations are destined to meet in a courtroom before they clash at Twickenham.
NZR argue that Shields, like all professional players in the country, has signed a contract which clearly states he is only available to play for New Zealand teams.
All Super Rugby players whose eligibility has not already been captured by another nation, have to sign what is known as Schedule Three as part of their contract.
"I don't think you should jump to the conclusion that he will be available from our point of view," NZR chief executive Steve Tew said.
"He has signed to New Zealand and he is contracted to play for New Zealand teams until the end of Super Rugby.
"We have a New Zealand player who is contracted to be here until the end of that competition and that would be our expectation. We are obligated to release players who have signed to play for other countries so they have made themselves unavailable for New Zealand.
"We always make sure that occurs and that is of particular relevance to the Pacific countries. But in this instance, Brad has signed a contract that makes him available for New Zealand teams."
Shields, who is already eligible for England through his parents, announced earlier this year that he will be joining the Coventry-based Wasps after Super Rugby finishes.
He also said that England coach Eddie Jones had been in touch and had made it clear that Shields was in his plans for the November series.
But Jones has reportedly been granted permission by the Rugby Football Union to select Shields in June even though the 27-year-old will still be contracted to the Hurricanes.
The RFU has a policy of not picking players for England who don't play for English clubs although will grant exemptions.
The Herald understands that the RFU, aware that NZR will cite Schedule Three and refuse to release Shields for the June series, will argue that NZR's stance contravenes World Rugby's Regulation Nine - which states that all players must be released from club commitments during the agreed June and November international windows.
Effectively the RFU will say Schedule Three can't be considered binding and that NZR has no legal standing to deny contracted players from playing test football for another nation if they switch their allegiance during the term of an existing contract.
The legality of Schedule Three has never previously been tested.
NZR has either historically agreed to let players represent another country during the lifetime of their Super Rugby contract or individuals have been content to wait before they switch allegiance.
The most recent case came just last year and interestingly the request for release came from England who wanted to pick former Blues first-five Piers Francis.
Like Shields, Francis is believed to have signed Schedule Three and although he was born in England, his eligibility hadn't been captured before he was offered a Super Rugby contract.
He was six months short of serving a three-year eligibility period. But when Jones sought permission to pick Francis to play Argentina in June last year, NZR agreed despite the fact the No10 was still under contract with the Blues.
Francis had signed a deal to play for Northampton at the end of Super Rugby.
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