Eastern Province rugby president Cheeky Watson says that while there is a difference of opinion between his organisation and the national body on what constitutes a foreign player, the Southern Kings will submit to the South African Rugby Union’s guidance on the selection issue that has sparked controversy this week.
Saru announced earlier on Tuesday afternoon that following a teleconference of the Executive Council, it had been decided that an investigation will be launched into the Southern Kings’ alleged breach of the Vodacom Super Rugby participation agreement between South African teams.
The Kings fielded three foreigners against the Chiefs last week after Argentinian Thomas Leonardi was called into the squad from the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium stands as an emergency measure following the late injury related withdrawal from the team of lock and captain Darron Nell. New Zealander Hadleigh Parkes and fellow Argentine Nicolas Vergallo were already in the match day 22, thus causing the Kings to exceed the limit of two foreigners.
There are four “foreigners” on tour with the Kings in New Zealand at the moment in Parkes, Leonardi, Vergallo and French hooker Virgile Lacombe. According to Watson, there is a debate to be had over whether the Argentine players should be classified as foreign given the way that Saru is pushing the development of players from that country and sanction the participation of an Argentine team, the Pampas XV, in the Vodacom Cup.
“In the process leading up to the signing of foreign players last year, we were led to believe and even encouraged to sign Argentinian players – who currently participate in the Vodacom Cup as Pampas – with the understanding that they would not be considered as foreign players, in the same way as Daniel Adongo, who is from Kenya, is not considered a foreign player,” said Watson in a press release issued from the EP headquarters on Tuesday.
“That being said, the sanctions which are being considered against the Southern Kings, as per the statement issued by Saru, have been clearly conveyed to me.”
Watson said that in light of this, the decision had been made to submit to Saru’s guidance on the matter.
“I am on record as having clearly stated that our treatment and entrance into Super Rugby, and the entire process to date, has disadvantaged us tremendously,” said Watson.
“However, no-one can dispute the fact that we are the first of the Super Rugby franchises added to the competition to have won our first game. We have also had a record of over 100,000 spectators through the gates of Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in our first three home games.
“We have proven in the last three games that we have played, by the attendance and the support of the spectators that we will fight and we will show our true colours as our emblem emblazons, the spear and the shield.”
Watson confirmed that he had been contacted telephonically by the leadership of Saru in connection with the issue of the foreign players fielded during the game against the Kings.
“I have received a call from SA Rugby, and while there is a difference of opinion relating to the definition of foreign players, it is my duty to submit to the guidance of the governing body of Saru,” he said.
Saru earlier announced the appointment of a judicial sub-committee to investigate the alleged breach. If found guilty, the Kings could face a wide range of possible consequences starting from a caution to a R1-million fine or even a recommendation to the General Council of Saru to suspend or expel them.