Rugby: CEO won't back down over Elliot dumping

By Anendra Singh

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While some people may feel the dumping of Hika Elliot poses a risk of alienating a proportion of the Hawke's Bay Magpies fan base, the Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union thinks otherwise.

Union chief executive Mike Bishop yesterday said the feedback from some sponsors, teams and fans suggested they had done the right thing as the Chiefs franchise hooker found himself booted to touch for the 2013 ITM Cup season this winter.

Bishop reiterated the union's player cost structure, Elliot's "potential" in becoming an All Blacks hooker, player fatigue following a lengthy Super Rugby season and the Japan sabbatical season argument were among some of the key factors that prompted the Craig Philpott and Danny Lee-coached Magpies not to extend the Cup contract of the the Tamatea Sports and Rugby Club rake.

New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew has also joined the debate in the media over the axing of the four-match All Black, questioning Bishop's theory on fatigue as well as the HBRFU's new signing of All Black Ben Franks, whose international commitment he feels will be equally testing.

Bishop responded yesterday: "Look, Steve [Tew] is entitled to his opinion and I don't agree with what he's saying."

Last winter the Magpies, who were relegated to the second tier of the cup, rested key players after the Super Rugby title-winning campaign for the Chiefs.

The other Chiefs player was prop Ben Tameifuna who last month opted to play for Waikato in the cup after his much-publicised battle with his drinking and weight demons the previous winter.

The HBRFU said the feeling was mutual on Tameifuna who seemed to have found better traction with former Magpies assistant coach Tom Coventry who has assumed the mantle of assistant Chiefs coach.

A distraught Elliot has reflected dismay, expressing no animosity towards the union but disenchantment on the way his case was handled.

"After giving so much of my life to a province that I love and respect it was a hard pill to swallow," the 83-match Magpie veteran had said from Hamilton.

The 27-year-old Maori All Black, who has 75 Super Rugby games to his credit but finds himself in a limbo this season with most other cup teams having secured key hookers, harbours hopes of returning to the Magpies' fold.

The minutes versus money debate aside, Bishop said all players this season had to go through a similar appraisal system.

"Hika just didn't give us the value we wanted out of him."

Seeking depth, the coaching stable were mindful last year Elliot was among the top three or four hookers in line for AB selection after injuries to Mahonri Schwalger and Keven Mealamu while Rhys Marshall (Chiefs) was too young.

Ash Dixon (Napier Tech) and Jesse MacDonald (MAC) are the hookers in the Hawke's Bay squad, while the coaches also have someone else in the pipeline.

"Hika is seen as a potential, and I stress, potential, All Black so we weren't going to wait until July to find out if he wasn't available," Bishop said.

Compounding the situation was an escape clause in Elliot's contract which meant that he would have been able to go for a sabbatical to Japan - something Bishop said was becoming common throughout the country.

"Players are not shy to look offshore, so from our point it's always a two-way street," he said, adding the Magpies needed consistency and stability in their squad after last year's experience.

Bishop said Elliot was definitely a long-time loyal player but "there's always two sides to an equation".

The contract talks didn't reach the money phase with Elliot but while the player and his agent were responsible for deals it was ultimately the NZRU's call to set the boundary of negotiation and acceptance.

Asked if the coaching stable saw Elliot as belonging to a perceived "peacock culture" that could have led to some disruption in the squad, Bishop replied: "Hika is Hika, there's no doubt about that but that isn't unique to just Hika.

"No doubt, when we're re-signing players we take all those sorts of factors into account as a whole."

Taradale Rugby and Sports Club premier first five-eighth Dan Waenga has signed a two-year contract to begin playing with Biarritz in France from June after the 30-match Magpie failed to secure a Super Rugby deal in the country.

After the hue and cry of fans last season, Philpott, in his second year at the helm with Lee, will face the litmus test in what is shaping to be a do-or-die season.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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