Heartland uproar eases to 'please explain'

A proposed appeal by provincial unions against the lenient penalty given South Canterbury for fielding an ineligible player has been downgraded to a "please explain" email to New Zealand Rugby Union boss Steve Tew.

South Canterbury were docked two Heartland Championship points and fined $4500 by a subcommittee of the NZRU board on Friday for incorrectly categorising Fijian Aporosa Tabulawaki as a local player.

They earned 10 points for the three games he played. Two years ago, West Coast copped a $2500 fine and were docked five points for a similar transgression in one game.

Rival unions slammed the inconsistency of the penalty, but the uproar had eased yesterday and there seemed confusion over whether they had grounds for an appeal.

Buller chairman Erik Westergaard took the lead and confirmed he'd emailed Tew, who was scheduled to arrive home from South Africa last night.

"We've submitted a letter to the NZRU and we'll see how they respond. Just from the logistics of the playoffs, something needs to be resolved before this weekend," Westergaard said.

Buller are fourth, one point ahead of South Canterbury, entering Saturday's final round which will decide the Meads Cup and Lochore Cup semifinalists.

Asked if he was confident the NZRU would revisit the penalty this week, Westergaard said: "If I was a betting man I'd probably say no, but I know that the NZRU is likely to have received communications from a number of different parties.

“I went through the constitution and took some advice from wiser heads than mine and they suggested we don't necessarily have grounds for an appeal." An appeal would also require a cash deposit for the cost of assembling an appeal council which would be chaired by former NZRU boss Rob Fisher.

An NZRU spokeswoman confirmed any of the 26 provincial unions could appeal a decision by a board subcommittee. No appeal had been received last night.

The Dominion Post