'Lenient' penalty for Sth Canty challenged

STU PIDDINGTON
Last updated 05:00 08/10/2012

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The New Zealand Rugby Union looks set for a busy week with several Heartland unions set to appeal what they see as a lenient penalty handed to South Canterbury over bungled player eligibility paperwork.

On Friday, South Canterbury were docked two championship points after using four loan players in three games, one more than allowed. The breaches occurred after Fijian wing Aporosa Tabulawaki was incorrectly categorised as a local player when he arrived in New Zealand on June 3, after the June 1 qualification date.

South Canterbury were fined $4500 and have to pay $500, but other Heartland unions are unhappy with the sanction and will either collectively or individually appeal to the NZRU.

With final round robin games on Saturday, there is an urgency to have the matter cleared up.

Poverty Bay, Thames Valley, Wanganui and East Coast seem likely to appeal. West Coast, Wairarapa Bush and Buller are considering their positions.

It seems all the unions want to know why the NZRU panel docked only two bonus points, rather than the 10 earned while fielding the ineligible player.

Wanganui chief executive Dale Cobb said he was keen to see the full decision, yet to be released by the NZRU.

"I would love to know the rationale behind the leniency as they have certainly dodged a bullet.

"It is not really about South Canterbury but the integrity of the competition, because it doesn't look as if the penalty fits the crime."

Many unions had been in similar positions and lost a lot more, he said.

Poverty Bay chairman Malcolm MacLean said they were very disappointed about the penalty.

"I know there are four or five unions not happy about it, because in the past some of them have been penalised, as we have, and there needs to be consistency.

"There will be an appeal on Monday and if it's not individual ones it will be a collective one, that's for sure.

"They have lost two bonus points, but my question is, what would have happened if they didn't get those bonus points?"

Thames Valley chairman Neil Olesen described the punishment as a "wet bus ticket penalty".

East Coast executive officer Mopey Devery said they were not happy either.

In 2010, West Coast were stripped of five points and fined $2500 for breaching eligibility regulations in a game against Wairarapa Bush, which they won.

A number of unions also pointed out it is not South Canterbury's first offence. In 2006 they were fined for deliberately fielding an ineligible player in a Ranfurly Shield game against Canterbury.

Some believed the fine could be covered by hosting a Meads Cup semi and final.

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However, that has gone out the door after South Canterbury self-destructed against West Coast on Saturday.

The SCRU's defence was they relied on incorrect paperwork supplied by Celtic, who brought Tabulawaki to New Zealand, the fact he only missed the cut-off date by two days and the offending was at the lesser end of the scale.

The Herald understands they were undone by the fact one of Buller's loan players arrived on the same plane as Tabulawaki, who was not shown in the match day programme as a loan player.

South Canterbury chairman Brent Isbister said last night he would not comment until reading the full decision.

Buller chairman Erik Westergaard said he was unsure where the complaint originated from.

"It's a possibility it was from here but I am not aware of it."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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