The New Zealand Maori side will not assemble in 2009 and will be replaced at the Pacific Nations Cup by the Junior All Blacks.
As part of a raft of changes to teams and competitions for 2009 announced by the New Zealand Rugby Union on Thursday, the Junior All Blacks will be given priority over the Maori side as the second-ranked national men's team.
The Maori won the Pacific Nations Cup in 2008, however the Junior All Blacks won the inaugural competition in 2006 and again in 2007 before being controversially replaced by the Maori side.
At the time it was thought that giving the New Zealand Maori precedence over the Junior All Blacks would hinder the development of non-Maori players and limit the options of the national selectors.
NZRU chief executive Steve Tew said while the long-term view was that the New Zealand Maori team was the best fit for the Pacific Nations Cup, the development of the top level of players as a pathway to the All Blacks was a more urgent priority in 2009.
"However, it is important to remember that Maori rugby, together with other areas of our game, still benefits from the annual funding of provincial unions," he said.
The NZRU is still exploring opportunities for matches overseas for New Zealand Maori which would be contingent on those fixtures generating revenue to cover the cost of the team's assembly.
However, in the current economic climate even the reputation of the New Zealand Maori might not be a big enough draw card to attract a major competition sponsor and they face the prospect of a very quiet year.
The announcement by the NZRU comes after the Australian Rugby Union announced it would pull its Australia A side from the 2009 Pacific Nations Cup due to financial constraints.
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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