Cape Town – Eastern Province Rugby president Cheeky Watson has confirmed that the Kings have sent two foreign players back home from their Australasian tour.
A statement released to the media on Wednesday confirmed that Argentine Tomas Leonardi and Frenchman Virgile Lacombe will return to Port Elizabeth and be replaced by Edgar Marutlulle and Devin Oosthuizen.
This comes after SARU on Tuesday launched an investigation into a suspected breach of its Super Rugby participation agreement by the Kings.
Watson on Wednesday boarded a plane for New Zealand to address the Kings touring squad following SARU’s announcement. Watson, Marutlulle and Oosthuizen are due to arrive in Christchurch on Friday morning.
Leonardi and Lacombe will have already departed to return to Port Elizabeth by the time Watson and the other players arrive. They will now be utilised in Eastern Province’s Vodacom Cup squad.
â€œI think itâ€™s very clear by the last statement that we gave out, we were led to believe that according to the players that we signed, that technically we only have two foreign players within the system,â€? said Watson.
The Kings were led to believe that the two Argentinian players in their squad (Leonardi and Nicolas Vergallo) would not be regarded as foreign players, as they were already participating under the Vodacom Cup banner as the Pampas XV, in much the same way as Daniel Adongo was exempted for hailing from Africa.
â€œBut, being a provincial member of the South African Rugby Union, which is the governing body, we follow their guidelines on these issues,â€? said Watson.
So with Leonardi and Lacombe heading back, the only remaining foreign players in the Kings squad are scrumhalf Vergallo and centre Hadleigh Parkes. Forward Adongo and prop Jaco Engels are not viewed as foreign players as they hail from the African continent.
SARU acted on Tuesday after it was established that the the Kings fielded three foreign players in their 35-24 Super Rugby loss to the Chiefs last Friday.
Captain Darron Nell was injured in the warm-up prior to the game, which saw loose forward Leonardi join countryman Vergallo on the bench. New Zealander Parkes started at inside centre, which meant the Kings fielded three foreign players in their squad – one more than the two allowed by SARU.
SARU threatened the Kings with sanctions, ranging from a caution to a maximum fine of R1m or a recommendation to the general council to suspend or expel them.
However, Super Rugby chief Greg Peters said on Twitter that SARU did not have the authority to suspend or expel the Kings, as that would affect the whole three-country tournament and only a South African rule had allegedly been broken.
So it therefore leaves the Kings facing a warning or fine.
“That (the suspension or expulsion of the Kings) can only be done by us and it is not our rules that have allegedly been breached,” Peters tweeted.
The Kings face the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday (kick-off is at 08:35 SA time).