Everyone is replaceable, IRB tells NZ

The International Rugby Board responded to a possible New Zealand withdrawal from the next World Cup by saying “everyone is replaceable” on Tuesday as Samoa’s Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu was banned from rugby.

Meanwhile, France became the first team to name their side for this weekend’s quarterfinals where Les Bleus face old rivals England at Auckland’s Eden Park.

IRB chief executive Mike Miller reignited a row that kicked-off last week when New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) counterpart Steve Tew said pulling the top-ranked All Blacks from the next World Cup could not be ruled out.

Tew said his organisation lost money every time the quadrennial tournament was staged, adding competing at the current World Cup in New Zealand was costing the NZRU more than NZ$13-million ($10.3 million), casting a shadow over their participation at the 2015 edition in England.

Miller in an interview with New Zealand’s Radio Sport on Tuesday, when asked if the World Cup needed the All Blacks, arguably rugby union’s most famous team, replied: “Everyone is replaceable.”

It was a statement that stunned members of the New Zealand team preparing to play their quarterfinal match against Argentina in Auckland on Sunday.

“You can’t have a World Cup without the All Blacks, without any of the top nations. They’ve all got to be there just to make it a legit World Cup,” wing Richard Kahui told reporters.

‘Racist, biased prick’
Sapolu, already in hot water for a Twitter message where he had likened Samoa’s treatment at the World Cup to the holocaust, was provisionally suspended from all rugby for a post attacking referee Nigel Owens as a “racist, biased prick” on the social networking site following last week’s 13-5 defeat by South Africa that ended the team’s quarterfinal hopes.

Sapolu, who plays for English club Gloucester, didn’t attend a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday and a statement issued on behalf of judicial officer Jeff Blackett said the player would be “provisionally suspended from all participation in the game of Rugby Union”, with the matter to be reviewed at a future hearing.

Samoa had claimed they were being unfairly treated after wing Alesana Tuilagi was fined for wearing an illegal gumshield bearing a sponsor’s name.

But brother Manu, who plays for England having qualified for his adopted country on residency grounds, was fined the same NZ$10 000 ($7 500) Tuesday for the same offence.

France coach Marc Lievremont continued to play Morgan Parra out of position at fly-half after naming the Clermont scrum-half as his No. 10 for Saturday’s last eight clash, where Les Bleus will try to avoid being knocked out of the World Cup by England for the third time in a row after semifinal defeats in 2003 and 2007.

Breaking down dominance
Parra again won out over specialist fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc, with Lievremont, who will be replaced as France coach after the World Cup by fellow former international Philippe Saint-Andre, saying: “Despite the great qualities of Francois in that position, I love the possibility of playing Morgan there.”

Both South Africa lock Bakkies Botha and Australia’s Rocky Elsom predicted a physical battle when the Tri-Nations rivals clash in Wellington on Sunday, with Elsom saying the breakdown would be vital.

“Any time you get dominance at the breakdown you’re going to provide front-foot ball for attack and that’s an enormous part of the game.”

Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini has been suspended for 15 weeks—until January 18—after admitting to eye-gouging prop Cian Healy during Sunday’s crucial Pool C match which sent Ireland through to the quarterfinals.

The offence has a minimum sanction of 24 weeks, but Ghiraldini’s ban was reduced because of his unblemished disciplinary record.—AFP

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