Marc Hinton: How are you going to sort out this mess with the Air NZ Cup because clearly the four unions who miss out are not going to be happy? Steve Tew: No, the four unions who don't make the Premier Competition for 2010 won't be happy, and we have sympathy for them and recognise it will hurt their fans, hurt their players... but we just remind everyone that the four unions likely to go down were part of a group of nine that came to us at the beginning of the year and asked us go through the exercise we went through, which resulted in getting a weight of agreement to come up with the 10-team competition that's now been put in place for next year. The challenge for all the unions that go down is for their communities to stay committed, for them to keep a good chunk of their player base and then win the competition the following year and they'll be back up. It's not a closed door. And once you're up there all you've got to do is not come last and you can stay there as long as you like. "weight of agreement", so not a total agreement. Once again how exactly are the four unions going down going to keep their top flight players? MH: People keep waiting for you to say 'OK, we didn't really mean it, you can all stay' but that's not going to happen, is it? ST: We got the provincial unions together in May and they agreed on a set of principles of what a competition should look like (a full round-robin, promotion-relegation, professional players available and plying in it, finished by the end of October, semifinals and final). When you put all those things together you get what we've designed. The majority of unions are still comfortable that it's the right thing to do. No at the time they agree to automatic two up two down, you have since changed that agreement MH: Are people missing the big picture here? Surely a 10-team Premier Division makes for a better standard of rugby? ST: It should do. The reality is these 14 unions over the last three years have collectively lost $10 million, and since 2005 the NZRU has granted in excess of $90 million to provincial unions to fund not just this competition but the community game. There is a bigger picture here and I think we all agree we've spent too much money on this part of the business and some unions have not spent enough time and energy and money on the grass-roots game, because that's the future. One other thing we've been able to do is secure that window for club rugby which we think is really important. And how much did Canterbury lose through the last three years? Manawatu and BOP are poised to post their first ANZC profits, Tasman are knocking on that door. Why should the hinterland pay for the big five continuing to post loses MH: They didn't say get rid of the four of us, though? ST: No, but they did say get us together and we want to help redesign the competition. And we got unanimous agreement. If you apply the characteristics we came up with to designing a competition you can only have an 11-week competition. To make the draw work with 14 teams in the window we have, we'd have to play two or three Wednesdays games and that is not in the best interests of anyone. You did not get "unanimous agreement", that's a blatant distortion of the facts MH: For a salutary lesson do we need to look any further than South Africa which has eight teams in its thriving Currie Cup? ST: They were much heralded for protecting their window in the recent Sanzar discussions, but the reality was we were doing the same and protected exactly the same window. Australia had a different agenda. We think we found the right compromise, having Super Rugby as a stand-alone event and a period of time when the domestic competition can have the limelight. But it will be a 10-team competition. The South Africans are struggling to keep eight teams competitive, and a number of their unions are struggling financially as well, so maybe there's a lesson in that. How exactly is demanding a fixed, fit in with S15, window protecting Provincial rugby in New Zealand? MH: The murmurings have begun from the provinces. Are you prepared for legal challenges? ST: I've been in professional rugby since 1995 so I'm prepared for everything. We would be disappointed if it comes to a legal challenge but we haven't dismissed that possibility. All the unions agreed the criteria we put in place would be used if needed, so it's hard to see on what basis a legal challenge would be mounted. As stated over and over, the may agreement was broken by Tewbacca ergo it's not a binding contract. Who was it that backtracked quicker than a politician last year when Northland and Tasman started talking a legal remedy? MH: There's a lot of talk about the imminent changes to the way players are going to be contracted. What can you tell us about this? ST: We can't guarantee where this is going to end up because it's now part of our collective agreement with the players which we're discussing now. In 1995 we established a system where the top 150 players were contracted to the NZRU to be available for national teams, the Super 12 as it was then and to play domestic rugby. At that time a secondary market effectively established itself because that didn't tie you necessarily to a province. That secondary market we think is now too big, and we've almost got three markets established at the same time -- we're paying them, the franchises via provincial unions are paying them and the provincial unions are paying therm. Our view is we need to simplify all that and bring some sense to the players' contract market. Yes lets cock this up as well, Northern Hemisphere teams will get the benefit MH: What about this removal of the subsidy paid to provinces who never got to see their All Blacks? ST: Provinces have been saying for some time now that the NZ union should be paying the secondary contracts for All Blacks who play little part in the Air NZ Cup. We agreed in principle, though no one actually asked them to contract them in the first place. Last year we had some surplus money so we provided a subsidy. This year we don't have that luxury, so we pulled that subsidy. Hopefully if we get through that [collective bargaining] process we will take that out anyway because we won't have secondary contracts. Jesus H Christ is Tew a complete twat! Yeap don't bother contracting your AB players, let them go onto the market MH: Half the unions in New Zealand are running at a loss. How has provincial rugby got so broken? ST: I wouldn't say it was broken. But costs have risen to meet and in some cases exceed revenue. Some of the disciplines that have been applied across those unions possibly could have been a bit tougher. In the end we spent too much money creating this competition and our review suggested we need to spend less. Once again BOP and Manawatu are set to post profits, this is due to already living within their means, is Canterbury going to do this? MH: In other words, unions have got to cut their cloth? ST: Rugby is no different to any business -- if you've got capital funds sitting in reserves you can afford to spend more than you earn, but once the reserves are gone if you can't pay bills you're in deep trouble. We've had a number of unions close to that point. To their credit a lot have tightened their belts, but still seven of 14 unions are forecasting a deficit for 2009. These are extraordinarily tough times. So we've got to get through this period but also make sure we put in place structures and competitions that are financially sustainable over the long term. MH: If Tasman finish top four and North Harbour bottom four, how do you say 'see you' Tasman and 'you're safe' Harbour? ST: It won't be easy, but we did publish the criteria that will be determined. If those criteria in the end result in a team that's made the top four going down that will be quite hard to explain but that's the way it is. If we had left it to just results in '09 then we would have encouraged very poor behaviour around building a super team to get a result that could have been extraordinarily out of context. No one's more delighted that Tasman's performing than us because we shared their vision. But I do need remind everybody they are $340,000 in debt to the NZRU, which we have not done for any other union. Where exactly did you publish the criteria and where exactly is Tasman not meeting it? Do we need to remind Tew about a certain Union owned ground down south that's no longer owned by that union Tewbacca needs to consult a PR organisation stat!