All Blacks great Richie McCaw has called for calm after the standoff between New Zealand Rugby and the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association over private equity investment took an ugly turn.
McCaw, who led the All Blacks to World Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2015, told the Weekend Herald it was time for "reasoned debate" after another former captain David Kirk on Friday described a public spat between the organisations as a "one-way war of words".
This follows the announcement on Friday that Kiwi-owned investment manager Forsyth Barr had tabled an alternative offer - conducted at the request of the NZRPA - to the controversial Silver Lake deal. According to the proposal, NZR would sell a five per cent stake in its future commercial revenues through an NZX listing - a move that could raise as much as $650m.
In response, NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said he was "shocked and disappointed" by the NZRPA's "attempt to destroy" the Silver Lake deal, adding in a leaked staff email that the relationship with the NZRPA was "at a new low".
NZR and the NZRPA have been at odds for months over Silver Lake's offer of $387.5 million for a 12.5 per cent stake.
"We've got to have a look at it and debate it," McCaw said of the Forsyth Barr proposal.
"Don't be afraid of it. It's not saying one's definitely better than the other, but the thing I really want to see is to look at these options, and don't just dismiss it because it wasn't yours.
"The big thing I hope is that this new proposal on the table actually gets discussed, and not just dismissed. For me, it's another option that I didn't think was possible, but it looks like it could be."
McCaw, who served on the board of the players' association for a decade, is adamant that greed was never a driving force for the players.
"The whole ethos behind the All Blacks is that you do your time, and leave it in a better place, so that the future generations can keep adding to it. We always talked about what was best for New Zealand rugby," he said.
"Sure, there was money that needed to go around to make it all work, but the last thing any of us ever wanted was to think that New Zealand rugby wasn't put first. We wanted it to survive not just on the field, but also financially long after we're gone."
The 148-test legend, known as one of the toughest competitors in the history of the game, admitted to the Weekend Herald the motivation for the Silver Lake deal "scares" him.
"I was trying to be as open-minded as possible, because we're a small country, and there's always the challenge about there being enough money in the game to compete. But there's also the feeling of, 'What happens down the track? Is it the right thing? What are the risks?'. You'd like to stack it up against the other options.
"Being told [by NZ Rugby] that's the only option and we take it or leave it, does make you wonder. I can see how a whole lot of money coming in would make people feel pretty excited about it. But when you talk with people about private equity, the feedback I get is to be very careful, that you have to understand the motivation, which is to make money off it. Straight away that scares me.
"I'm not an expert in the field, but there were business people who would say to me, 'be careful'."
The seemingly growing divide between the players and the governing body is concerning, McCaw says.
"One of our strengths of rugby in New Zealand is that we've had a really united way of doing things, which has actually been unique in the world.
"We want to make sure we get back to that state. I really hope we work together to get there. I know the players want to get back to that. It does nobody any good to not have that partnership, which was special, working.
"I know in the debates in the time I was in the players' association, it wasn't about what can we get right now, it was how can we make sure this is sustainable, and works, and treats everyone fairly.
"What's happening now feels exactly the same to me. The current players will not be driven by how much money is going to come to them, but about what's best for New Zealand rugby."