Former All Blacks head coach Sir Steve Hansen has called for New Zealand Rugby to stand strong and not crumble under Australia's pressure when it comes to deciding the format for Super Rugby from next year onwards.
In an interview with Stuff, Hansen said New Zealand owed Australia nothing in a week where tensions have escalated between the two nations following the revelations of findings from the Aratipu review into the future of Super Rugby.
The review has been undertaken to find ways to improve and re-shape the competition in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with one suggestion being an increase in Kiwi teams and a reduction of Australian sides in a transtasman tournament.
Those notions have not been well-received by Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan, who likened his organisation's relationship with NZR to a "master-servant" dynamic in response to news that a number of Australian sides could be dropped.
Hansen, however, believed New Zealand owed nothing to RA, which he said has often "gone missing" in times of need when called upon by NZR.
"Without being controversial, we have been looking after the Aussies for years,'' the two-time World Cup-winning coach told Stuff.
"And every time we have required something from them, particularly at a high level, sometimes they have gone missing.
"Do we owe them something? No. But because we are the nation we are, and we care about the game more than just ourselves, we bend and buckle a bit.
"I think NZ Rugby are in the mood for having strong discussions … because they only get one shot at it.''
While findings from the review indicate a preference on New Zealand's part to have fewer Australian teams involved, Hansen stressed that it was important not to dilute the All Blacks' talent pool by adding more Kiwi sides.
"You don't want to be diluting the talent pool. And then you have to ask 'do we want our athletes travelling all around the world as much as they have been?'
"If the answer is 'no', you look internally into New Zealand or maybe Australia [for a competition structure] because it's not far away.''
Other alternatives such as the inclusion of Japanese and/or Pacific teams have also been discussed, with the unveiling of the proposed Major League Rugby franchise Kanaloa Hawaii the most recent side to indicate its interest in joining the league.
"The sky is the limit now. We've done the impossible," Kanaloa Hawaii chief executive Tracey Atiga told Tagata Pasifika.
"We went through a Covid period of four months and put together an application that was strong and that was approved by the MLR.
"We're in conversations with NZ Rugby at the moment. We'd love to have a spot in Super next year and we're ready for it. We've proven that we're ready."