Controversies cloud Rugby World Cup

The International Rugby Board (IRB) set themselves on a collision course with New Zealand over their...

The official IRB ball for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Picture: AFP

The International Rugby Board (IRB) set themselves on a collision course with New Zealand over their threat to boycott the 2015 World Cup on Tuesday as off-field controversies overshadowed preparations for the quarter-finals.

On a day when Samoan centre Eliota Sapulo Fuimaona was banned from all rugby, Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini suspended for 15 weeks and England centre Manu Tuilagi fined, France were first to name their side for this weekend's matches.

But all of this was overshadowed when the IRB ratcheted up the public relations battle with the New Zealand Rugby Union, telling them they could live without the All Blacks, should they carry out their threat to snub the 2015 tournament.

Last week, NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said they lost NZ$13.2 million ($10 million) in revenue this year because of the World Cup and unless the world governing body changed its commercial model, it would consider not playing in England in four years' time.

"Does the World Cup need the All Blacks? It would be good for the All Blacks to be there," IRB chief executive Mike Miller told local radio on Tuesday. "Everyone is replaceable."

The All Blacks team, however, said they felt any World Cup without them in it would lack legitimacy.

"You've just got to see what rugby means in this country to think of it as inconceivable," All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith said.

Utility back Richard Kahui added the World Cup needed all of the top teams to be playing.

"You can't have a World Cup without the All Blacks, without any of the top nations," he said.

"They've all got to be there just to make it a legitimate World Cup."

France coach Marc Lievermont made two changes to his side for the quarter-final against England at Eden Park on Saturday, calling up prop Nicholas Mas and loose forward Imanol Harinordoquy to add some experience to his forward pack.

The French were beaten 19-14 by Tonga in their final Pool A clash and while they were battling reports of division within their camp, the English were wary of the danger they posed.

"I suspect they will be really committed to playing," England lock Tom Palmer told reporters.

"They will see this as being given another chance and what has happened before is irrelevant because it is a one-off knockout match.

"I imagine they realise it. They can say 'screw everything' behind them and 'we can go out and win and go to the semi-finals of the World Cup'. That will be motivation for them."

BANS, FINES PREVALENT

Samoa centre Sapolu Fuimaono was also suspended from all rugby for failing to appear at a judicial hearing in Auckland on Tuesday after he criticised Welsh referee Nigel Owens on social networking website Twitter.

The 30-year-old later told Television New Zealand that he had not even been informed of the date and time of the hearing and would fight the charges.

Italy hooker Ghiraldini also fell foul of tournament officials when he was banned for 15 weeks for touching the eyes of Ireland prop Cian Healy during their Pool C clash in Dunedin on Sunday.

Healy was penalised for retaliating after the incident in Ireland's 36-6 victory at Stadium Otago, though television replays showed Ghiraldini's hand was near Healy's eyes as the pair wrestled at the breakdown.

England centre Tuilagi was fined NZ$10,000 for wearing a branded mouthguard, a week after his brother Alesana, the Samoa winger, was fined for the same thing.

Fans annoyed at what they considered the harsh penalty for Alesana, raised thousands of dollars towards his fine with a televised "sausage sizzle" in Auckland.

New Zealand's central government also moved to avoid any further embarrassment as the knockout phase kicks into high gear, having budgeted an additional NZ$4 million in spending to cope with any potential congestion in Auckland.

The Auckland City council will also contribute another $1 million.

Six of the final eight matches are to be held at Eden Park, with fan zones in south Auckland and on the North Shore to be activated to provide a focal point for fans to gather without travelling into central Auckland.

An estimated 200,000 people squeezed onto central Auckland's streets for the opening match on 9 September, causing massive delays on public transport that meant some fans missed the game between New Zealand and Tonga at Eden Park.