Player's Status Probed
01 October, 2012
The South Canterbury rugby team's Heartland campaign could be derailed if the New Zealand Rugby Union finds the team has fielded an ineligible player.
The Timaru Herald understands the national body is investigating whether South Canterbury has fielded four loan players at one time rather than the three allowed under the competition rules.
The South Canterbury Rugby Union was tight-lipped on what, if anything, was happening when approached yesterday on the matter. Chairman Brent Isbister, who was travelling back from Gisborne with the team, would only reply "no comment" to any questions regarding player eligibility and whether the union was under investigation.
When pushed he finally said, however, that he might have something to say on Tuesday but would not expand any further.
Coach Chester Scott also deflected questions regarding the eligibility issue with a "no comment".
The Herald understands the investigation centres on Fijian wing Aporosa Tabulawaki.
Tabulawaki was brought to the province by the Celtic Rugby Club and played in their Hamersley Cup victory.
His visa took longer than expected to process and the problem appears to be whether the paperwork made the June 1 cut-off date to be considered a "local" rather than "loan" player.
Players new to the province also have a compulsory seven-day stand-down and that could also be part of the confusion.
If the union has breached the rules it will certainly not be the player's fault.
The Herald had previously asked the South Canterbury Rugby Union about Tabulawaki's status and was told he was deemed a local player and there were no problems.
The New Zealand Rugby Union was unable yesterday to clarify what was going on but would likely comment today.
South Canterbury sit third equal on the table, tied with East Coast and Buller, but only a point behind leaders Wanganui and Wairarapa Bush.
Those five teams seem set to fight out the four semifinal spots for the Meads Cup, the top tier trophy in the Heartland competition.
Should South Canterbury have been found to have broken the rules, it is unlikely any excuse will carry much weight with the national body.
That would certainly mean a loss of points and a fine would also be a likely outcome which would be a bitter blow to a team that has every chance of lifting the Meads Cup for the first time.
In 2006, the South Canterbury Rugby Union was fined $25,000 for using an unregistered player, Tony Ward, in the Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury.
The New Zealand Rugby Union found South Canterbury had knowingly breached the player eligibility regulations by fielding Ward.
On appeal the fine was reduced to $15,000, with half the amount paid while the other half was suspended for five years but payable in addition to any other penalty for any further breach.
South Canterbury has survived without any further problems until now.
In 2010, West Coast were fined $2500 and stripped of their competition points for knowingly breaching the eligibility regulations. Source: Timaru Herald