Sevens: Kiwis face expulsion

2004-04-07 13:30

Auckland - New Zealand could be hit with a heavy fine and possible expulsion from the International Rugby Board world sevens series after fielding two players who had previously played for Samoa.

The New Zealand Rugby Union was on Wednesday urgently checking the status of two members of its 2004 seven-a-side squad, Kevin Senio and Sosene Anesi, after it emerged they had played for Samoa at the Hong Kong Sevens in March 2000.

Under strict IRB rules introduced in January 2000, players are only allowed to represent one country during their career. The eligibility regulations were tightened to stop rich nations poaching talent from poorer countries.

Unions who breach the rule risk a £100 000 mandatory fine for each case of fielding an ineligible player plus possible suspension from IRB competitions.

The regulations could spell disaster for New Zealand, who are currently leading the 2004 IRB world sevens circuit. Both Senio and Anesi played in the Singapore and Hong Kong legs of this year's competition.

During qualifying play for the Rugby World Cup two years ago Russia was disqualified after it was found using three ineligible South African players.

An NZRU spokesperson was not prepared to comment on the two Samoans in the sevens side but said they understood the two had an IRB dispensation to play for New Zealand.

The issue came a day after the 16-nation Pacific Forum summit that has made a political issue of the way in which Australia and New Zealand plunder Pacific Island rugby talent. The Forum is discussing with the IRB ways in which Pacific players can switch nationality when the dominant union, such as Australia or New Zealand, does not need them.

A senior rugby official who did not want to be identified said New Zealand could not claim any dispensation for the two players.

"It is impossible because the IRB tightened up the rules before they played for Samoa," he said. "Now they are playing for New Zealand."

The IRB changed its rules from January 2000 in an effort "to maintain the integrity of the international game" according to its rule-book.

"Once a player has committed himself to a particularly union through participation in one of the matches or tours... he is unable to change his 'rugby nationality that becomes fixed."