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Springboks threaten NZ Maori boycott

Published: 3:05PM Thursday February 19, 2009 Source: NZPA

The New Zealand Rugby Union are pressing ahead with plans to send a Maori side to South Africa to play the Springboks in Soweto, despite the racial composition of the side posing a potential stumbling block.

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) and their New Zealand counterparts have been planning the game in the township on the outskirts of Johannesburg since December.

But reports out of the Republic on Thursday suggested it could be scuttled because Saru's President's Council forbids South African rugby sides from playing opponents selected on racial grounds, a decree that would include the Maori.

Saru strategic communications manager Andy Colquhoun said the Council's resolution was a "fundamental stumbling block" to the match taking place.

The NZRU's general manager professional rugby Neil Sorenson said the possible impasse came as "a bolt out of the blue".

He was seeking clarification from Saru acting general manager Andy Marinos.

Both organisations hoped to have the match confirmed before the end of the month, though a final decision may be delayed until late March.

The match, proposed as a warm-up for the Springboks before they take on the British and Irish Lions in June, has been welcomed by South African coach Peter de Villiers, who described it as imperative in terms of preparing his side for the three-test series.

The NZRU were also keen for the match to proceed, as it provided the Maori with a playing opportunity after the organisation chose to enter the Junior All Blacks in the 2009 International Rugby Board Pacific Nations Cup.

That demotion left the Maori without any matches.

The game also has appeal for the NZRU, given the South Africans are expected to pick up the tab for the exercise.

In a significant irony Maori players, banned from touring the Republic with the All Blacks during the apartheid regime, now appear to find themselves at odds with South Africa's inclusive political system.

There is also what appears a contradictory situation given South African sides, including the Springboks, must include a quota of non-white players.

Sorenson would not comment on the potential double standard.

"We've got enough issues to sort through without having a crack at the South Africans," he said.

"It's a pretty complex issue."

New Zealand's race relations commissioner Joris de Bres weighed into the debate, urging Saru to allow the game to proceed.

De Bres wrote to the Saru board on Thursday, saying he could appreciate the Council's policy given the history of racial discrimination in South African sport under apartheid, but there was no such discrimination in New Zealand.

The NZRU also investigated a match between the Maori and Australia A, but those discussions failed to reach fruition.

The Springboks are due to meet lowly Namibia in Windhoek in late May and de Villiers wanted a harder match against the Maori as a final warm-up for the Lions series which kicks off in Durban on June 20.

New Zealand Maori last toured South Africa in 1994, playing four matches against Vaal Triangle, Free State, Griqualand West and Eastern Province.