Loophole may free Tuqiri



Fijian winger Lote Tuqiri may have one crack at the Tri Nations against the All Blacks after all before the Rugby World Cup.


There’s a loophole that might free up Tuqiri to play for the Wallabies in the Bledisloe Cup decider in a fortnight.


Here’s a report from Planet Rugby:


Players’ Association chief executive Tony Dempsey said yesterday he would be seeking clarification from the Australian Rugby Union over why a Sydney club fixture is not being included in Wallabies winger Lote Tuqiri’s two-match suspension.

If included it would free him to turn out against New Zealand in Auckland in the Bledisloe Cup decider on July 21.

After Tuqiri failed to attend two Wallabies functions on Monday, newly returned ARU chief executive John O’Neill invoked the two-match suspended sentence and $20,000 fine imposed on Tuqiri after an alcohol-related incident in Cape Town in July 2005.

O’Neill, in consultation with senior ARU management, overruled a recommendation from a Wallabies disciplinary committee that Tuqiri pay the fine but only be suspended for one match, Saturday’s Tri-Nations Test against South Africa at Telstra Stadium.

“As his club team West Harbour is not taking part in the Shute Shield finals series, the second match to be served as part of the suspension will be the return Bledisloe Cup match against the All Blacks,” O’Neill said in a press release.

But O’Neill’s assertion may not be correct. While West Harbour is indeed out of the Shute Shield race, it continues to play matches in the Plate competition, created to keep players from the six bottom Sydney clubs fit for the Australian Rugby Championship.

NSWRU suburban rugby manager Matt Want confirmed yesterday Plate matches are recognised as official fixtures.

That could allow West Harbour to select Tuqiri for the July 14 round, when the Wallabies have the Tri-Nations bye, to allow him to serve his suspension before the return match with the All Blacks.

And that has presented the club with a dilemma, according to West Harbour president Geoff Moxham.

“We’d like to look after Lote if we can,” Moxham said. “It’s a conflict of conscience. We’re also a part of the wider rugby community.”

The ARU, alerted by NSWRU chief executive Fraser Neill that Tuqiri’s club is still involved in an official competition, has refused to countenance any moves to circumvent the intent of its suspension.

“It won’t be entertained,” ARU spokesman Roger White said.

Yet, curiously, when Tuqiri was suspended for 11 weeks for his spear tackle on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw last August, the ARU argued he would be missing a string of West Harbour fixtures, not just the one Test he forfeited, against the Springboks in Johannesburg.

Those apparent inconsistencies are certain to be raised by Dempsey.

“I’m going to be making an inquiry of the ARU to get some clarity on this issue,” Dempsey said.

Even in the unlikely event of Dempsey convincing O’Neill to allow Tuqiri to serve the second half of his suspension on the sidelines for his club, the problem-plagued winger has surrendered his Test right wing spot on Saturday, with Mark Gerrard returning to the starting XV for the first time since the Sydney Test against Wales.

 Caption: Will Tuqiri do what he does best . . . score tries against New Zealand in Auckland?

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