The Southern Kings recalled an Argentine and French player from their touring squad in New Zealand on Wednesday as the South African Rugby Union investigated the Super 15 newcomers for breaking its rules on foreign players.
The Kings said Tomas Leonardi and Virgile Lancome will return to Port Elizabeth and be replaced by two South Africans for the four-game tour of Australasia.
Kings president Cheeky Watson also travelled to New Zealand to talk to the players after the team was threatened with a caution, fine, suspension or even expulsion by SARU in its debut Super Rugby season if found guilty of fielding too many foreigners in a game against the Chiefs last week.
But Super Rugby chief Greg Peters said on Twitter that SARU did not have the authority to suspend or expel the Kings, as that would affect the whole three-country tournament and only a South African rule had allegedly been broken.
It leaves the Kings facing a warning or fine of up to 1 million rand ($108,000).
"That (the suspension or expulsion of the Kings) can only be done by us and it is not our rules that have allegedly been breached," Peters, the chief executive of Super 15 organizer SANZAR, tweeted.
Leonardi, fellow Argentine Nicolas Vergallo and New Zealander Hadleigh Parkes were in the Kings' matchday squad for the home loss to the Chiefs on Friday and all played some part in the game. South African teams are allowed only two foreign players per game, according to contracts they sign with the national union.
Watson, who said on Tuesday that the Kings had been unfairly treated because of their late inclusion in the Super 15, maintained on Wednesday that they were led to believe that Argentine players wouldn't be considered foreigners. The Kings chief reiterated the outfit believed it had met regulations, but would follow SARU's guidelines "on these issues."
"Technically, we only have two foreign players within the system," Watson said, referring to New Zealand's Parkes and France's Lancome. "It's all water under the bridge, we have reached the stage in this region where we said that we are going to stop complaining about the late announcement on the 16th of August, in fact about everything, and just focus on getting the job done.
"It is immaterial if we are disgruntled or upset, we abide by SARU's decision."
SARU was criticised for a long delay before confirming the Kings' participation in the Super 15 and the relegation of the Johannesburg-based Lions to make way for them. The Lions were eventually dropped after the 2012 regular season ended. The uncertainty over their Super Rugby place also left the Kings with little chance to contract players for their debut season, the team has said.
The Kings play seven-time Super Rugby champions the Crusaders the competition's most successful team on Saturday, while SARU chief executive Jurie Roux told South African media that he hoped the investigation would be concluded next week.