Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Laulala rejected by NZRU

Casey Laulala was ready to leave Munster and join the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images
Casey Laulala was ready to leave Munster and join the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand Rugby Union's decision to deny the Chiefs former All Black centre Casey Laulala has opened the organisation up to allegations of bias against the defending champions.

It is understood Laulala, now playing for Irish club Munster, was given the all-clear by Kiwi coach Rob Penney to join the Chiefs on a short-term contract, but the deal failed to get past the NZRU.

While remaining diplomatic in public, the Chiefs - who are suffering a midfield injury crisis - are understood to be extremely frustrated by the NZRU's decision, which was apparently made because their request came after the April 1 cut-off.

However, the Highlanders signed former All Blacks and Crusaders No 8 Mose Tuiali'i from Japanese club rugby late this season. His first game for his new team was against the Blues at Eden Park on April 5 soon after he arrived.

There is a perception the Highlanders, who were on a eight-game losing streak this season before finally getting a victory against the Sharks in Dunedin, were being treated leniently, while the defending champion Chiefs have been left to fend for themselves.

NZRU general manager of professional rugby Neil Sorensen, understood to be on the panel who rejected the Chiefs' request, was not available for comment last night.

Rennie told 3News after a Chiefs training session yesterday: "We knew the rules going in. It was an appeal for some help, really."

He said the declining pool of players in New Zealand was becoming a real issue.

"We've got a lot of our next tier going overseas," he said.

"There's an enormous amount of players who have gone recently or are about to go. More than people realise, I think. When you look at that situation we're starting to look at guys who haven't even started for their NPC side."

Laulala, 31, who played two tests for the All Blacks between 2004-06, in an era dominated by Conrad Smith and Richard Kahui, would have been a valuable addition to the Chiefs.

The Crusaders have struggled to find a replacement for his consistent midfield penetration since he left after the 2009 season, initially for the Cardiff Blues before signing with former Canterbury coach Penney at Munster.

He is also an excellent defender, a bit of a problem area for the Chiefs this season.

With Kahui ruled out for the rest of the season with another shoulder injury and Andrew Horrell recovering from a serious ankle sprain, the Chiefs have only the inexperienced Bundee Aki, Charlie Ngatai - who is recovering from a hamstring strain - and Save Tokula available in the midfield to play the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday.

Tim Nanai-Williams is out until July after a spell in hospital with a stomach ulcer.

One player feeling the pressure more than most is Chiefs first-five Aaron Cruden, who is himself struggling with injuries this season.

Cruden admitted trying to gel a constantly changing midfield had not been easy. Last year, he also had the considerable presence of Sonny Bill Williams outside him.

What's going on?

Three questions for the NZRU
*Why were the Highlanders allowed to sign Mose Tuiali'i and the Chiefs denied Casey Laulala?
*If it's because they missed the "cut-off" of April 1, why does this exist when the competition runs until August 3?
*Were the Highlanders given an easy ride because they are struggling?

- NZ Herald

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