Broadcaster demands compensation for missing All Blacks

Media giant News Ltd has put a price on the heads of top All Blacks and will demand compensation if they fail to appear in early Super 14 matches next year.

The Super 14 paymaster is angered by New Zealand's plans to pull 22 leading players from the first half of the 2007 competition so they will be in peak physical and mental shape for the World Cup campaign at the end of the year.

The Australian-headquartered media conglomerate claims the New Zealand plan breaches the Super 14 broadcasting rights deal it has with South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby (SANZAR), the Sunday Star-Times said.

New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chairman Jock Hobbs met with exectives of the aggrieved broadcaster in Sydney last week, and was told to name the 22 World Cup contenders who will miss seven weeks of Super 14 rugby.

Once informed, New Ltd. would then talk to broadcasters in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa -- plus Sky TV in Great Britain -- to discuss what News Ltd. spokesman Greg Baxter described as "an acceptable compromise."

Baxter said that would probably involve negotiating a discount on the 660 million New Zealand dollar (418 million US) contract SANZAR signed with News Ltd. in 2004.

"I think so, because clearly there is a value attached to these players. If there wasn't they would not be resting them," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Baxter said News Ltd. would prefer to avoid a protracted legal argument.

"To us, that is about as far away from where we want this relationship to be as you can get, so that would be an absolute last resort," he said.

"We will be trying to pursue other avenues, which will include the possibility of being compensated for the loss of those players."

The All Blacks to undergo the individually tailored reconditioning programmes were originally intended to be named after the All Blacks Tri-Nations campaign ended in South Africa last weekend.

However, a spokesman said the announcement had been delayed as they were "still working through the process."

The decision to keep players out of the Super 14 championship is part of New Zealand's plan to shake off their tag of World Cup chokers.

"It is critical that our top players have the opportunity to prepare in the right way so that they are in the best shape of their lives when they get to France," NZRU chief executive Chris Moller said.

Since winning the the inaugural World Cup in 1987, the All Blacks have failed in every attempt since, earning them a reputation as "chokers" in rugby's biggest tournament.

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