Several major provincial unions are aggrieved with the New Zealand Rugby Union's handling of Otago's unprecedented financial bailout.
Frustrated and struggling provinces are reluctant to share their criticisms publicly given the emotional sentiment attached to Otago's saviour.
But several made it clear they did not approve of the way the NZRU had dealt with the Otago situation and fear the granting of three successive "tier one" All Blacks tests and a North versus South inter-island game will disadvantage their unions in the battle for rugby's shrinking revenue dollars.
One official expressed surprise that the NZRU had condoned a rescue package using union matches and resources to help pay $2.35 million in debts allegedly caused by mismanagement within Otago.
They suggested Otago had been rewarded by "leveraging" All Blacks' games while other provinces that had controlled their finances were being penalised and fear that they could now be neglected.
"It is really frustrating," a North Harbour official said.
"It is not an even playing field. We want to deal with it. It needs to be sorted."
With the NZRU adding two "high-profile profitable tests" to one Springboks match already scheduled for Dunedin's indoor stadium this season, the likes of Waikato, Taranaki, North Harbour and Hawke's Bay will battle to gain meaningful All Blacks tests over the next three years, contended some officials.
A respected former provincial chief executive told the Sunday Star-Times he thought Otago would make a minimum of $500,000 for hosting two All Blacks' matches. That substantial sum was confirmed by Auckland rugby's 2009 annual accounts, which show it was paid a one-off fee of $371,708 for a solitary Bledisloe Cup test.
"That's not where it ends. You are able to package up your season tickets with a guaranteed All Blacks' test," added the North Harbour official.
It is understood an economic impact study found the 2002 test against lowly ranked Italy in Hamilton generated at least $1.5 million for the region. Far more would be earned from Australia or South Africa's arrival.
"They've been allocated tier one tests from what I understand," a Waikato official said.
"There's not a lot we can do about it whether we're annoyed or not. We would love to secure those tier one test matches.
"It means there is a hell of a lot more competition between Taranaki, North Harbour and Waikato for the remaining tests."
Union officials spoken to by the Star-Times stressed the importance of hosting internationals to boost coffers in these tough financial times. One pointed out tests have been scheduled on a yearly basis and suggested that the NZRU had already broken that protocol with the announcement of 2013 and 2014 internationals in Dunedin.
"Last year we [Waikato] had almost a $700,000 loss," said the Waikato official. "We managed to sort ourselves out and Otago have had to go down a different route.
"Those test matches generate a hell of a lot of revenue for Dunedin. It's hugely beneficial for Otago and their council."
Hamilton hasn't staged an international since South Africa in 2009. North Harbour has been out in the cold for seven years; Hawke's Bay since 1996, while New Plymouth hosted Ireland last year.
The aftermath of Otago's bailout may have also set another dangerous precedent.
A $270,000 "loan" made by the NZRU to Otago in January is now described as a "grant" in the rescue package, further angering some struggling provincial unions. The grant was on top of a $500,000 loan which must be paid back in the next five years.
It remains to be seen whether there is further angst over revelations the New Zealand Maori jersey may be compromised with large BNZ logos after $1.2 million owed to the bank was wiped.
The North Harbour official said: "On top of the package that's been extended, the thing that's really frustrating is the loan has now been turned into a grant.
"That undermines the evenness of the competition," he suggested. "The $270,000 is a real issue, quite frankly."
Meanwhile, as part of the bailout agreement, the ORU board will be forced to resign in the next two months. After two years as chairman, Wayne Graham will leave his post but indicated some board members may try to return.
"We will all resign but some of the board will stand for re-election," Graham said. "You chuck out all that knowledge, after what we've been through, at your peril. It would be a mistake.
"I'm still recovering after the stress of it all. My feeling at the moment is I'll be moving on."
- © Fairfax NZ News