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New Zealand Rugby set for pivotal vote after breakaway threat

<a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/teams/new-zealand-women/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:New Zealand;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">New Zealand</a>'s Leicester Fainga’anuku (R) celebrates scoring a try against <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/teams/australia-women/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Australia;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Australia</a> last year (Sanka Vidanagama)

New Zealand Rugby will hold a crucial vote Thursday over who runs the game in the country that could see top players split from the governing body if they don't get their way.

Months of bubbling discord are set to reach a head at NZR's special general meeting in the capital Wellington.

Powerbrokers will vote for one of two proposals about a new leadership structure for the national governing body in the rugby-mad country.

NZR and the professional players' union are backing a proposal of far-reaching changes, primarily that the nine-strong board all be independently elected.

That was a key point among the recommendations set out in a stinging independent review of the game's governance last year.

However, the influential 26 provincial unions from New Zealand rugby's amateur heartlands have tabled their own proposal.

They agree some change is needed at the top, but want to keep their current powers to decide three places on the nine-strong board.

Ahead of the vote, the players' association upped the stakes by threatening to break away from New Zealand Rugby and instead form their own rebel body to govern professional rugby if the provincial unions get their way.

If neither proposal reaches the two-thirds threshold needed from the 90 votes, there will be stalemate and ongoing rancour.

All Blacks great John Kirwan, part of the side which won the 1987 World Cup, worries that the infighting at the top could drive fans away.

"The saddest thing for me is people don't give an (expletive) any more because they're just sick of it," he told radio station Newstalk ZB.

"If you just stop caring, that's when our game is in real danger," he added.

However, Canterbury Rugby Union chairman Pete Winchester warned that the 11th-hour breakaway threat from the professional players is only likely to harden attitudes in the provinces.

"We look after 150,000 amateur players, (spread) around 26 provincial unions in the country," Winchester told Newstalk ZB.

"It's a complex business. We are just saying it would be good to have three people with experience of working in provincial rugby."

Richie McCaw, who captained the All Blacks to back-to-back Rugby World Cup triumphs, called on all stakeholders to look beyond themselves.

"I would urge people that make the decision to not just think about their own patches, but to step above that and think what is right for New Zealand rugby in the long term," McCaw told the New Zealand Herald.

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