WELLINGTON, New Zealand - New Zealand's 131-year-old Otago Rugby Union has delayed for a week the process of going into liquidation as groups and individuals, including All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, race to pull together a financial rescue plan.
The Dunedin-based union announced at its annual meeting last week that it had debts of more than $2.3 million (US$1.9 million) and had no choice but to wind up its operations.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said Otago's financial predicament "remains very bleak" but stakeholders still hoped to agree on rescue package.
"The key parties have been talking since Monday and have identified some options that warrant further examination," Tew said. "It makes sense for the union to delay proceedings to allow these parties more time to undertake proper analysis,.
"Things are at a very delicate stage, so we are not in a position to discuss the shape of any deal. However, we are only considering arrangements that will put the union on a sustainable long-term footing."
The union said it owed $1.2 million (US$996,000) to the Bank of New Zealand, $400,000 (US$332,000) to the Dunedin City Council and around $750,000 (US$622,000) to other creditors, mainly local businesses.
McCaw, who was born in Otago province but played provincial and Super rugby for Canterbury, has proposed a benefit match to raise funds.
The Otago union is one of New Zealand's largest and strongest and has produced 156 All Blacks over 131 years. Many of its financial problems stemmed from the sale of its famous Carisbrook Stadium which was heavily mortgaged and which realized less than the union had expected.
The union has also struggled to fund the annual $1.2 million (US$996,000) salary bill for the semi-professional Otago team which plays in New Zealand's National Provincial Championship. The Otago Highlanders Super 15 team is a separate entity and player salaries are paid directly by the New Zealand union.
The NZRU said an Otago team could play in this year's National Provincial Championship but it would have to be privately-funded.
The debt crisis has raised fears over the solvency of other New Zealand provincial unions which have struggled since rugby became professional in 1996, with rising costs mainly from player salaries, and falling revenues.
Otago's return from ticket sales has dropped almost 30 per cent in the past five years.