Rugby Union: Springboks' match under threat: The South African rugby codes are locked in conflict. Dave Hadfield reports on the far-reaching implications

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The Independent Online
THE Springboks' rugby union match at Elland Road this autumn is being threatened by calls for them to be barred from the ground if the South African Rugby Union does not lift its ban on rugby league.

The Springboks are due to play the North at the stadium - which is used by Leeds United and Hunslet RLFC but owned by Leeds City Council - on 10 November.

But the Rugby League Supporters' Association has complained to the council. 'We want the council to ask the South African Rugby Union to lift its ban on rugby league,' the RLSA's secretary, Tony Collins, said. 'If not, they should tell them that they are not welcome at Elland Road.

'We are not in favour of stopping any game, but if the SARU is taking discriminatory action against rugby league then there is no reason why they should be able to avail themselves of facilities maintained by poll tax payers in Leeds.'

The RLSA is waiting for an official response from the council. 'On an informal level, there has been considerable interest,' said Collins, who has also contacted the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the African National Congress to tell them of the initiative.

There has been increasing amateur rugby league activity in South Africa over the last two years, with rugby union players taking the opportunity to try the game, alongside many who had never played either code of rugby.

But an instruction from the SARU to its member provinces last month effectively banned rugby union players from playing league as well as forbidding the use of rugby union grounds.

The instruction says that amateur rugby league constitutes a threat to union and may lead to the formation of a professional rugby league in South Africa.

Collins says that the SARU is in contravention of its own International Board's policy of a 'free gangway' between the two codes for amateur players.

The International Rugby Football Board, however, says that member countries can 'frame additional regulations relating to amateurism, provided they are not in conflict with the Board's regulations and are only effective within that particular Union.'

The Board's secretary, Keith Rowlands, has written to the RLSA that 'it is my contention that the SARU has acted within its rights as provided within our bye-laws'.

Collins says that makes a nonsense of the much-vaunted 'free gangway'. 'It leaves member countries free to discriminate against league as they see fit,' he said.

The South African Rugby League, which has been particularly active in Soweto and other black townships, is to fight the ban in the country's courts.

'This is typical of the disregard and intolerance the Union has for people who do not share their views. It is an unlawful invasion of an individual's right to choose the game in which he wishes to participate,' its president, J C Strauss, said.

The SARL secretary, Dave Southern, said: 'Our lawyers say that the Rugby Union don't have a leg to stand on, but we also need all the international support we can get.'

Tony Simpson, the press officer for the Rugby Union's Northern Division, said that he was unaware of any clash between the two codes in South Africa or any protest over the match. 'We obviously hope that the arrangement to use Elland Road will stand,' he said.

The Division had made provisional arrangements to use the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield, another council-owned ground whose main tenants are Sheffield Eagles rugby league side, if the date clashed with Leeds United's second-round tie in the European Champions' Cup, but a clash is no longer likely.