Race rule may stop NZ Maori playing Boks

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The New Zealand Maori could be stopped from touring South Africa because of a race rule.

The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has confirmed they are looking at the the possibility of a match later this year as a warm-up for the British and Irish Lions tour but said there are a number hurdles to overcome before it can happen.

"We can confirm that the New Zealand Rugby Union has inquired if there was an opportunity for the Maori team to appear in South Africa," a statement said on the SARU website.

"SA Rugby is examining the possibility but no decision has been taken on whether the offer will be accepted and there are several obstacles to overcome should we wish to pursue the offer."

"They include the financial viability of the project, logistics around venues and player availability and the fundamental stumbling block of a long-established President's Council resolution forbidding the appearance of SARU teams against opponents selected along racial lines."

A final decision on the tour is not expected until the end of March.

The match 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 Springboks are due to meet lowly Namibia in Windhoek in late May and wanted the much harder match against New Zealand Maori as a final warm-up.

The series against the Lions starts in Durban on June 20.

Last week the Herald revealed that former All Black Billy Bush and Jonah Lomu's former manager Phil Kingsley Jones had tried to arrange a tour for the New Zealand Maori squad but were rejected by the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU).

The NZRU said allowing third party control over the team could compromise relationships with commercial partners and other international unions.

The move by the pair came after NZRU decided to axe tours by the Maori, Heartland 15 and Black Ferns in order to save money.

However, at the time, the union said if another union would foot the bill, then the Maori side may still be able to tour.

- NZ HERALD STAFF, NZPA

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