An Australian rugby drama threatens to erupt over player availability after the Wallabies asked the ACT Brumbies to rest three high-profile stars in the same week the Canberra club is trying to rebuild crowd support.
The Wallabies have requested for David Pocock, Allan Alaalatoa and Scott Sio to be withdrawn from the Brumbies' clash against the Japan Sunwolves at Canberra Stadium on Sunday.
The Brumbies had eight players picked in the Wallabies squad, including bolters Tom Banks and Folau Faingaa.
But it's understood the Brumbies are refusing to budge on the issue of resting players and are standing firm by their plans to pick Pocock, Sio and Alaalatoa when coach Dan McKellar names the team on Friday.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika put the onus on the Brumbies to change their minds, declaring resting the players was the "commonsense" decision given a six-day turnaround before the first Test.
It has sparked club versus country debate and the timing couldn't be worse for the Brumbies, who are trying to generate interest in rugby in Canberra after one of the lowest crowds in the club's history at their last home game three weeks ago.
The potential absence of Pocock, Sio and Alaalatoa would be a major blow to the Brumbies' hopes of attracting 15,000 fans and a pledge to donate $15,000 to charity if they reach that mark.
The salt in the wounds is the fact the Brumbies are the only team affected by Rugby Australia's directive to rest players, with the NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds able to pick from their entire squad.
The Melbourne Rebels agreed with Wallabies coaches to give Will Genia an extra week to recover from a knee injury to ensure he was fit to play in the Ireland series opener.
But there's a sour taste in the Brumbies' mouths and it's unclear if the parties will be able to reach an agreement. The Brumbies are strong supporters of more collaboration in Australian rugby, but the lack of planning has created major headaches.
Cheika said Australian Super Rugby clubs turned down a request to start their seasons a week early to give the Wallabies an extra week to prepare for the Ireland series.
The decision has left Brumbies players with a six-day turnaround, and likely only two full training sessions, before the Test opener in Brisbane next weekend.
"I definitely have requested that the players [be rested] ... Commonsense will tell you that a six-day turnaround into a Test match is not ideal for preparation," Cheika said.
"Throughout the season we've really done our best to get involved with Super Rugby teams and be as supportive as we can.
"... Personally I think it's the right decision to prioritise those guys being ready to play for their country. We've really tried to give every opportunity for the right outcome to happen.
"We started the discussion with them last week. [I] had a look at how the season's panning out. I wanted to take that into consideration as well and make the commonsense request around that.
"I'm hoping we can work it out together because I know the Brumbies have been very, very supportive of the national program and of us being involved with them all season.
"Sometimes you've got to have an aligned conflict to get the right outcome. I respect those guys a lot and I'm sure we'll try to find a way to get this resolved."
The players are being caught in the middle, with the Brumbies and Rugby Australia at a stalemate and neither willing to change its decision.
"As far as I'm concerned and Allan and Scott, that's up to the coaches to decide. I'm sure [Brumbies coach Dan McKellar] and Cheik will be talking about that. As a player, it's a tough one. We'll wait to see what's decided," Pocock said on Kick and Chase on Fox Sports.
The Brumbies decision is based on trying to build momentum after beating the Pretoria Bulls last weekend. The club is keen to work with Rugby Australia, but wants all players available to play the Sunwolves.
Asked if the parties could reach a compromise of the players being on the field for just 40 minutes against the Sunwolves, Cheika said: "No, [because] that belies the reason I did it in the first place.
"At a certain point, I don't want to harp on the point, I don't think a six-day turnaround is the right thing in regards to getting these guys right to play a Test match against the No. 2 nation in the world."
The Waratahs will have Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley among others for their game against the Reds.
The Rebels will send all of their Wallabies contingent to New Zealand to play the Auckland Blues on Saturday.
But a fan-friendly afternoon kick-off in Canberra is the reason why the Brumbies have been targeted.
The 4pm game will delay the Brumbies' arrival into Wallabies camp, with the players unable to join the squad until Sunday night at the earliest. They would be unable to train on Monday as part of work load management.
The bulk of the Sunwolves squad has been rested for the past two weeks to allow players for Japan's looming Tests, while New Zealand Super Rugby teams are told when to rest their All Blacks representatives.
The concept is new to Australian rugby and the timing is the major issue. Just 5283 fans went to the Brumbies' last home game, prompting chief executive Michael Thomson and chairman Phil Thomson to write to members warning the club "may cease to exist" if low numbers continue.
The decision to rest the Brumbies trio has been described as "in the national interest of Australian rugby", but it neglects the crowd situation in the capital.
Brumbies fans are desperate to see Pocock in action in particular, given he took a 12-month break from Australian rugby last year and he is one of the world's best players.
The champion flanker is one of the Brumbies' biggest drawcards and most popular player in the squad. Losing him from the game-day entertainment would be crippling blow for the most successful club in Australia.
SUPER RUGBY ROUND 16
Sunday: ACT Brumbies v Japan Sunwolves at Canberra Stadium, 4.05pm. Tickets available from Ticketek. Fans will be allowed on to the field after the game.
Props: Scott Sio (Brumbies), Sekope Kepu (Waratahs), Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies), Tom Robertson (Waratahs), Taniela Tupou (Reds)
Hookers: Jordan Uelese (Rebels), Folau Fainga’a (Brumbies), Brandon Paenga-Amosa (Reds)
Second-rowers: Rory Arnold (Brumbies), Adam Coleman (Rebels), Rob Simmons (Waratahs), Izack Rodda (Reds)
Back-rowers: Ned Hanigan (Waratahs), Michael Hooper (Waratahs), David Pocock (Brumbies), Caleb Timu (Reds), Lukhan Tui (Reds)
Halfbacks: Will Genia (Rebels), Nick Phipps (Waratahs), Joe Powell (Brumbies)
Five-eighth: Bernard Foley (Waratahs)
Wingers: Dane Haylett-Petty (Rebels), Reece Hodge (Rebels), Marika Koroibete (Rebels), Jack Maddocks (Rebels), Sefa Naivalu (Rebels)
Centres: Kurtley Beale (Waratahs), Samu Kerevi (Reds), Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies), Curtis Rona (Waratahs)
Fullbacks: Israel Folau (Waratahs), Tom Banks (Brumbies)