New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Chris Moller warned that in a "worst case scenario" the country would be excluded from the World Cup in Australia if players did not sign participation forms by the IRB's Thursday deadline.
IRB chairman Syd Millar told New Zealand TV that it would be serious if the NZRU found itself in breach of the RWC's participation agreement. "It's not our intention to kick anyone out. It's our intention to calmly consider the situation," he said.
There have also been suggestions that a secondary All Blacks side might replace test players who did not sign.
But discarded test forward and captain Taine Randell told the Herald from Dunedin last night that he would probably leave any decision on his availability to the players' association, headed by Rob Nichol.
Randell said the win-bonus offer "paled compared to other countries."
"This is a huge competition, the rugby market is world-wide and it is a bit unfair that player greed is being portrayed as a stumbling block.
"If they win the World Cup, I'm sure there are going to be benefits that will seem huge compared to what's being promised.
"The players want the association to deal with it and that's the way to go. They've said 'we'll concentrate on the rugby', and their performances have been fantastic.
"I've got confidence the association will do what's right for most players in New Zealand. I do feel a sense of solidarity to support their [the test players] stance."
And agent Rob Brady, who represents Tana Umaga, Jerry Collins and Kees Meeuws claimed: "Players are resolute and are strong behind this All Blacks team."
As the country had to disbelievingly consider that a brilliant new All Black team might have its World Cup campaign scuppered, Moller said the NZRU would not dip into its reserves of more than $20 million.
Moller said with $90 million annual operating costs, the reserves would quickly dry up if the News Limited broadcasting contract was not extended past 2005.
The players association yesterday cancelled meetings the NZRU had planned with the All Blacks and the supporting 22-man 'wider group' named by the selectors in late May.
Moller said the talks would have increased the chances of a resolution.
Nichol could not be reached for comment but Brady claimed the NZRU was trying to "divide and conquer", though Moller said player association representatives and agents would have attended.
The association told the NZRU not to approach players directly, and in response the NZRU suggested Employment Relations mediation under the terms of the collective agreement. The association agreed last night.
The NZRU is sticking to its $50,000 a player offer, while the players want up to $120,000.
Moller is hoping "innovative solutions" raised in talks with the players will close the gap.
He said: "The IRB made a statement today confirming that the signatures do have to be in place by 31st July and in the event of them not, the NZRU is in breach.
"It would be an absolute tragedy if people ignored IRB dates and then found that the implications were severe.
"I'm very concerned as are the members of the NZRU. We are getting shorter and shorter on time."
David Jones - who represents Carlos Spencer, Doug Howlett and Ali Williams - has hotly disputed All Blacks wage figures of around $300,000 indicated by Moller.
Jones said a small group of players, which the Herald believes includes Howlett, Umaga, Justin Marshall and Andrew Mehrtens, earn well above that, but many test players earn around $250,000 and that is reduced if they miss Super 12 games or are left out of the test squad.
The test payments are calculated on how many days players assemble with the team. Jones said the prime earning "window" was often only three to five years.
He contested claims that agents get massive fees, saying he did not charge his rugby clients and that agents would not get one cent from any win-bonus deal.