If it was Samoa or Tonga or the USA or Canada that were hoping to select Brad Shields this June, New Zealand Rugby would have already said yes.

But it is England that want to pick Shields and that changes everything as far as NZR are concerned.

England are a direct threat. England, despite their recent collapse in form, are a genuine contender to win next year's World Cup. England with Brad Shields will be a better team.

And England are…well, they are England and hackles get raised, toes get dug in and attitudes turn fairly defiant in this part of the world when the good chaps at Twickers want anything.


The thing is, though, England's conviction they can select Shields is not based on any misplaced sense of entitlement.

It is based on an entirely valid reading of World Rugby's governing charter that all players have to be released during the respective international windows.

England are doing no wrong in selecting Shields. They are not contravening any laws or agreements and are rightly assuming that World Rugby will support them in their belief that New Zealand have no legal grounds to stop the Hurricanes flanker from beginning his test career against South Africa in June.

England, hands down, are going to win this one. Shields will play in June and NZR are going to regret having ever suggested they may block the move.

NZR chief executive Steve Tew has softened his stance – saying on Friday they will now give due consideration to the request and factor in the long and loyal service of Shields, compared with his "over my dead body" take the day before.

But his insistence that if they do release Shields it will be because they want to rather than they have to, is rubbing salt into his self-inflicted wound.

NZR continue to believe they are not subject to World Rugby's regulation nine on player release.

That's for others to worry about, said Tew, and not valid in New Zealand where the national body is labouring under the misapprehension that they can restrain players' rights to play for a team other than the All Blacks.

They can't and World Rugby knows that. Other national unions know that. Player agents know that and now that NZR has hinted they will back down over Shields even though legally they say they don't have to, everyone can see they are powerless to control which country contracted players commit to.

No one gives up on a fight they want to win and they say they can win which is why NZR has come out of this as a double loser.

There's the obvious bad PR to consider: Tew having gone all Gandalf-like only to look behind him and see Shields on the other side of the bridge having a right old laugh with England coach Eddie Jones.

What will hurt more is that the national body will no longer be able to demand that players sign a document that says they will only be New Zealand-eligible to hold a Super Rugby contract.

How much of a barrier Schedule Three – the waiver that Super Rugby players sign to say they will only be New Zealand-eligible – has been to individuals committing to other countries is impossible to know.

But following the case with Shields, it won't be any barrier at all and dual-qualified players will in the future be able to commit to Super Rugby clubs in New Zealand knowing they don't have to choose the All Blacks.

It might therefore have been best if NZR had never said anything, because really at the source of their initial objection was pettiness. Shields is going to be playing for England in November anyway.

He will leave the Hurricanes when their campaign finishes and join Wasps, and given England's biggest weakness in the recent Six Nations was their work at the breakdown and their lack of pace and presence in the loose forwards, Jones is eager to bring Shields into his selection mix.

He was resigned to waiting until November as the Rugby Football Union have a policy of only selecting players based in England, but they have allowed him dispensation to pick Shields in June.

NZR took the view that England may well be getting their hands on Shields later this year, but they can wait until then. Why do them any favours and let them have Shields earlier?

In a high performance world where little things like that matter, especially with the All Blacks due in London in early November, maybe that's a reasonable stance.

But the true cost of picking this fight has been to highlight to the world that New Zealand can't impose an eligibility clause in Super Rugby contracts.

To get the day's top sports stories in your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here