Scotty Stevenson: Liam Messam ruling is a bad joke

New Zealand All Blacks and Chiefs flanker Liam Messam. Photo / Getty Images.
New Zealand All Blacks and Chiefs flanker Liam Messam. Photo / Getty Images.

So Liam Messam can return for the Chiefs to play two matches that potentially - and in reality - had major ramifications for the make-up of the Super Rugby playoffs but can't play in those playoffs because he hasn't played four games this season.

Well, that sounds reasonable. If by reasonable you mean the complete opposite.

Of all the decisions made this season, this has got to be the craziest. Unless you consider the Patrick Lambie decision. He is ineligible to play for the Sharks in the playoffs because he has been injured for most of the season, and was injured - get this - playing rugby for both the Sharks and the Springboks.

You can fall back on the rule book as much as you like, but Super Rugby's administration has got this wrong - wrong because if a player can play in one competition game he should be able to play in them all. You can't suddenly get to the knockout stages and say, 'now it counts'. Ask any player from a team that has missed out on the post-season, they can tell you every game is important.

The decision is wrong because it makes a mockery of the oft-repeated line that Super Rugby wants to be the best competition with the best players in the world. Well, last time I looked, Lambie was a 50-test Springbok and Liam Messam a Rugby World Cup-winning All Black and twice recipient of the Super Rugby grand final man-of-the-match medal.

But they now can't play, because of 'rules'.

Messam is a veteran of more than 100 games for the Chiefs, a loyalist to both New Zealand rugby and the Sanzaar competition. That he has been treated this way is a bad joke. Hiding behind the 'rules is rules' argument is a slap in the face for a player who deserves nothing but respect from the people administering this competition.

If that's the way we treat the legends of Super Rugby, I pity the poor young fools signing their first contracts. Welcome aboard kids. You may as well pack your bags and head to France. Sure, you'll be herded about like cattle by bored, rich owners, but at least the weather will be nice. Plus you won't have to bust your ass in your local competition for 10 years before you learn how little you are valued.

When will this game cut its fans a break? Already they have been told to cool their jets when it comes to the playoff system - a system many have struggled to understand from day one, and continue to be perplexed by. Already they have been left baffled by in-game rulings that are never fully explained. What's so hard about fronting up? The referees get a full debriefing after every match yet the fans are left to figure it out on their own.

Already fans have been left to consider the merits of an expansion programme that has given us the Kings, Sunwolves and Jaguares. We are told Super Rugby must expand or die, and there is truth in that claim. But, please, fans are only just able to swallow that line. Now they're expected to chase it down with something even less palatable.

On the Messam ruling, Sanzaar media and communications manager Greg Thomas, said:

"Special dispensation hasn't been granted because Sanzaar are satisfied that the Chiefs can field a normal, full-strength side of 23 players for the following match." How is it within Sanzaar's remit to decide on what a coach's 'full-strength' side looks like? Surely that is what coaches are for, and they are the only ones who can make that call.

If Sanzaar are now the sole arbiter of 'full strength' and are genuinely worried about maintaining the integrity of this competition, then allow me to remind you all of the Lions team selected by Johan Ackermann last weekend. Is 'under-strength' not something the administration is qualified to comment on?

It's no secret Super Rugby is at war with other competitions in the world for the services of the best players. By refusing to allow two of them to play this weekend, Super Rugby has shot itself in the foot. And there's nothing reasonable about that.

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