New Zealand rugby chief Steve Tew has hit out at the IRFU and Ulster for inflating the transfer market in their pursuit of All Black talent.
Ulster are reported to have offered both All Black prop John Afoa and Auckland Blues centre Jared Payne deals worth in excess of €400,000 to join them next season, and the NZRU fear they may lose more players, with Leinster and Munster interested in top talent from the World Cup host nation.
Tew expressed his surprise at the Irish provinces' ability to offer big-money deals to southern hemisphere stars after conversations he had with Irish officials during last year's summer tour about their difficulties competing with wealthy French clubs.
Since then, Ulster have signed Afoa and Payne to add to their large South African contingent and are reported to still be interested in All Black wing Cory Jane.
Leinster have acquired Crusaders out-half Matt Berquist while Connacht and Munster are believed to be targeting All Black centre Benson Stanley.
"The disappointing thing is that if the numbers we are led to believe that have been put on the table by Ulster, and therefore the Irish Rugby Union, are accurate, it is a shame," Tew said.
"The Irish are certainly one union we have talked to previously about the way the French system corrupts the market. Now we find in our situation the Irish are out-pricing us.
"Our sense of it is that the international market is not as strong as it was. That's why it (Ulster's recruitment) is a wee bit annoying.
"We have been talking with the Irish, and when they were out here in June last year, it was 'woe is me because the French are messing up Irish rugby'.
"Losing Payne is annoying, as is losing Afoa. He (Afoa) is a world-class player and would continue to make an incredibly valuable contribution to Blues and New Zealand rugby for a long time.
"But he's at a junction of his life and he's made his decision and he goes with our blessing."
An IRFU spokesman said the union had nothing to say in reply to Tew's comments, while Ulster's director of operations David Humphreys would not be drawn on the issue.