Exeter Chiefs appeared before a Rugby Football Union-Premiership Rugby Disciplinary panel of Judge Jeff Blackett, Peter Budge and Mark McCafferty, Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby charged with a breach of Premiership Rugby competition regulations 3.3c which says that “a club may not in any match have in the match day 23 at any one time more than two Foreign Players”.
The charge came from Exeter fielding Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo in their defeat to Leeds Carnegie on April 3, alongside Hoani Tui and Ignacio Mieres and again in their match against London Irish. Despite the deduction, Exeter stay ninth in the Premiership, but they now have 39 points.
Fijian-born Nadolo, 23, registered for the Devon club on an Australian passport when he joined from Bourgoin in January.
RFU Disciplinary Officer Jeff Blackett commented: “The panel accepted that there was no intention to gain advantage by selecting more than two foreign players in their match day squad and that this was an internal administrative error involving a failure of the administrator to inform the playing side that the player was foreign. There is an increasing incidence of poor administration and a deterrent sanction is required to prevent further incidents. Administrative errors such as these are a serious breach of regulations and potentially undermine the integrity of the competition.
“The panel concluded that each of the two breaches (v London Irish 26.03.11 & v Leeds Carnegie 03.04.11) to the regulations merit a deduction of two points but that the sanctions should be concurrent to reflect the fact that the RFU did not identify the breaches until after the second game.”
Exeter Rugby Club chief executive Tony Rowe, along with head coach Rob Baxter, attended the hearing on behalf of the club. Responding to the outcome, Rowe said: “Both Rob and I are pleased that the matter has now been brought to a close. We are thankful to the panel for the understanding way they have dealt with our case. As we have said previously in statements in no way did the club look to gain any kind of unfair advantage over any of our rivals. It was purely a clerical error, which we have had to hold our hands up to.”
Meanwhile, Baxter added: “We can put this behind us now, but we have learned some pretty important lessons from it regarding how tightly you have to manage certain scenarios.
“The players have worked hard this season and now they know that hard work has been worthwhile. I think it affected a few of the players more than we realised. It’s been a tough season for them and when something out of your control could affect your season it’s difficult to take.
“We had a bit of a blip for two or three weeks, but the guys responded well at Sale and re-set a few things in our game last week. Now we can look forward to the Wasps game and want to finish our season on a high with a big performance.”
Exeter Chiefs are therefore deducted two league points and ordered to pay a £5,000 fine and £500 costs.
Under the RFU’s rules, Premiership clubs’ match-day squads of 23 players can only have two players from outside of Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands – a limit they exceeded with the inclusion of Nadolo alongside Tui (New Zealand) and Mieres (Argentina).