New Zealand say they will not allow Brad Shields to join up with Eddie Jones' England for South Africa tour
England's hopes of selecting Brad Shields for this summer's tour of South Africa could be decided by the courts after the New Zealand Rugby Union insisted they have have the legal authority to deny the 27-year-old flanker from playing.
As reported in today's Telegraph, Shields, the English-qualified forward playing in New Zealand for the Hurricanes, has been made eligible for selection by the RFU to face the Springboks, despite an agreement with Premiership Rugby precluding the selection of overseas-based players.
However, because Shields is joining Wasps next season, head coach Eddie Jones has been told by English rugby's governing body that he will be permitted to pick him, should he wish.
A precedent was set in this regard last year when Northampton utility back Piers Francis, then playing for the Blues, was selected for the tour to Argentina.
In the event that Shields, who qualifies for England through his parents, is selected then he would return to the Hurricanes after the South Africa tour to complete the Super Rugby season before linking up with Wasps.
This idea, though, has gone down like a lead balloon in New Zealand, with the NZ Herald reporting that the RFU and NZR are now 'at war' over the player, with the latter arguing that Shields, like all professional players in the country, has signed a contract which clearly states he is only available to play for New Zealand teams.
The Herald reports that 'all Super Rugby players whose eligibility has not already been captured by another nation, have to sign what is known as Schedule Three as part of their contract'. And Shields signed this when agreeing his last Canes contract. It is only void once his contract expires.
"I don't think you should jump to the conclusion that he will be available from our point of view," NZR chief executive Steve Tew said.
"He has signed to New Zealand and he is contracted to play for New Zealand teams until the end of Super Rugby.
"We have a New Zealand player who is contracted to be here until the end of that competition and that would be our expectation. We are obligated to release players who have signed to play for other countries so they have made themselves unavailable for New Zealand.
"We always make sure that occurs and that is of particular relevance to the Pacific countries. But in this instance, Brad has signed a contract that makes him available for New Zealand teams."
The Herald adds that the RFU, aware that the NZR will cite Schedule Three in their attempts to bar Shields from joining up with England for the June series, will argue that this can't be considered binding because it contravenes World Rugby's Regulation Nine, which states that all players must be released by their clubs during the agreed June and November international windows, and will use Francis' selection as precedent.
When Eddie Jones asked permission to pick Francis to play Argentina in June last year, the NZR agreed, despite the fact the fly-half was still under contract with the Blues and their Super Rugby season was not over.