Leinster hold hands up over 'administrative oversight' for players' visas
Leinster head of rugby operations Guy Easterby has said the province take full responsibility for the "administrative error" that saw captain Isa Nacewa and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park denied access to South Africa on Wednesday.
The former Ireland international issued a statement yesterday in which he vowed that the province would learn lessons from the incident in the hopes of putting the issue to bed ahead of tomorrow's clash with the Southern Kings.
The province trained in Johannesburg yesterday, before flying into Port Elizabeth where they'll be the first northern hemisphere side to play a Guinness PRO14 game on South African soil.
They'll do it without their inspirational skipper who was turned away at the immigration gates as the province did not realise they had to apply for visas for their New Zealand contingent.
Despite efforts to appeal the decision, Leinster were unable to negotiate a change of mind and the pair were forced to return.
Nick McCarthy was called up as cover for scrum-half Luke McGrath while no one was added to replace Nacewa.
It was a further disruption for Leo Cullen who is already coping without the majority of his front-line internationals ahead of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium clash as well as the logistical challenges.
However, the Kings are also dealing with their own travel constraints having returned from their first European tour of the season, where they suffered heavy defeats to Scarlets and Connacht.
They are without their first-choice prop Rossouw de Klerk who is replaced by Luvuyo Pupuma and second-row Jurie van Vuuren who makes way for Stephen Greeff.
Despite their preparation issues, coach Deon Davids is expecting a strong Leinster outfit to pitch up in Port Elizabeth for Saturday's round three meeting.
"They've got a quality side," the Kings supremo said yesterday.
"They've got good systems and structures in place and I think anyone who comes through their system and into the Leinster first team is going to be quality.
"They'll be excited to be part of a South African tour, to stake a claim in the team and I'm expecting some quality players."
Leo Cullen names his team at noon and Rhys Ruddock is expected to captain the side in Nacewa's absence.
Meanwhile, Leinster may face an even weaker than normal Cheetahs side in Bloemfontein next Friday as the Free State side attempt to juggle their Currie Cup commitments with their fledgling Guinness PRO14 campaign.
Reigning holders of rugby's oldest provincial competition, the Free State region have struggled with the demands of competing on two fronts.
Already without their Springbok contingent who are involved in Rugby Championship action and their head coach Franco Smith who doubles up as the national team's attack coach, the Cheetahs sent their strongest team to the northern hemisphere for the first two rounds of the PRO14 and were heavily beaten by Ulster and Munster.
Their Currie Cup form has also suffered and they are now in a race to qualify for the semi-finals of the competition, having started their campaign strongly. They have free reign this week as they take on Zebre in their first home game on Saturday, but Leinster's visit to the Toyota Stadium is the second game in a double-header with the Free State Cheetahs' clash with the Pumas the curtain-raiser.
On Monday, their seven-man selection committee will meet to decide where their resources would be better deployed.
"The aim of the committee is to set up plans and ideas to help Free State reach the Currie Cup semi-finals and the Cheetahs to perform admirably in the Pro14," committee member Harold Verster told 'SA Rugby' magazine.
"The decision to establish a committee is so that we can take things week by week. To give you an example, we'll play our strongest available match 23 against Zebre at home this week.
"We play the Pumas and Leinster the following week, so will have to see where we are on the Currie Cup (table) on Monday before deciding which competition will be prioritised and where we will field the best team."
It remains to be seen whether the South Africans are simply playing to their base by establishing the committee on selection. For many fans, the Currie Cup remains a big draw but the franchise are pouring big resources into the PRO14 experiment and it would be strange to see them undermine it.
Southern Kings (likely team to face Leinster) - M Banda; Y Penxe, B Klaasen, L Vulindlu, S Sithole; K Coleman, R van Rooyen; S Ferreira, M Willemse (capt), L Pupuma; S Greeff, D van Schalwyk; K Majola, V Sekekete, A Ntsila. Reps: S Coetzee, P Strauss, M Drever, B de Wee, S Mdaka, G Masimla, N Dukisa/O Zono, J Nel.
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