Blurred loan rules frustrate Whanganui coach

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 29/10/2012
Whanganui
Photosport
HURTING HARDING: Whanganui fullback Nic Harding sits in the sin bin as East Coast steamroll to victory in Saturday’s final. Harding was yellow-carded for a blatant knockdown.

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Whanganui rugby boss Dale Cobb says East Coast's after-match spread was a lot easier to swallow than his union's Meads Cup final defeat.

East Coast claimed the Heartland championship crown with a memorable 29-27 comeback win over perennial contenders Whanganui in Ruatoria on Saturday.

And while full of praise for the victors, Cobb took the opportunity yesterday to call on the New Zealand Rugby Union to tidy up the criteria around loan players next season.

"For us it's just making it fair across the board," he said. "There has to be a transparent process and we'll be initiating a discussion about that during our Heartland meeting.

"I could be cynical and say Whanganui could have done with a few more loan players this season and it would have improved our performance, but that might sound like sour grapes.

"I don't want to take anything away from East Coast. It was a great day all up, fantastic hosts. I've seen seafood, but not to that proportion. It was absolutely fantastic. It was East Coast's day and they deserved their victory, but it was a hard pill to swallow to be honest."

That's because Whanganui, who have reached seven consecutive finals, believe a number of unions have been bending the rules around the number of loan players in their squads.

"We have loan players too, but we don't have any skeletons in our closet, put it that way. We make sure our guys are eligible well in advance," Cobb said.

"I think it is high time there were no favours for anybody. Everyone should be playing under the same rules and same conditions. There shouldn't be any dispensations made.

"We just need to tidy up the criteria for loan and local player status. There is a criteria but clearly some are allowed more than others. It's about streamlining and getting transparency."

Teams are allowed three loan players, as well as one "player of origin", in the playing 22 at a time. South Canterbury were fined earlier this season for playing an ineligible player.

Aside from those concerns, Cobb believes the Heartland format is a winner on every front bar a naming rights sponsor.

Whanganui were happy to remain in the amateur ranks and to provide a pathway to the pro ranks. Chiefs wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma and lock Mike Fitzgerald, as well as recently signed Blues wing Waisake Naholo, have all played for Whanganui in recent seasons.

Meanwhile, Buller have won the first national title in the union's history after holding off South Canterbury for a 31-28 win in the Lochore Cup final in Westport yesterday.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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