Belfast Telegraph

Key Leinster duo denied entry to South Africa for Pro14 double header

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Leinster's mini-tour of South Africa got off to the worst possible start last night when captain Isa Nacewa and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park were denied entry to the country and forced to return to Europe.

The New Zealanders travelled with the rest of the 28-man squad as far as Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport, but did not have the requisite visas to get through immigration. They spent the day at the airport as Leinster officials tried to find a solution, but ultimately had to fly home.

Scrum-half Nick McCarthy has been called up as cover for Gibson-Park for the Guinness PRO14 games against the Southern Kings and the Cheetahs, while Nacewa’s absence will be covered by the players who travelled.

Leinster were caught short by a change in the immigration arrangements between South Africa and New Zealand that came into effect in January. Prior to that amendment, New Zealanders did not need a visa to gain entry to the Rainbow Nation but that agreement ended earlier this year.

Leinster were unaware of the need to obtain visas for their Kiwi players.

Along with Italian side Zebre whose squad all made it into South Africa, Leinster are the first PRO14 side to make the trip to South Africa and have been under pressure to get the logistics of their tour together at short notice.

They stayed in Johannesburg last night and will train there this morning before travelling to Port Elizabeth for their clash with the Kings.

Already without his 2017 Lions, Ireland players Dan Leavy, Garry Ringrose, Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip and fathers-to-be Scott Fardy and Devin Toner, Leo Cullen must now adjust his plans accordingly with just one full session before the opening game and without his two players who have Super Rugby experience.

Rhys Ruddock is expected to captain the side in Nacewa’s absence and he is confident the squad can cope.

“It’s not something we could prepare for and no one had thought of that so it’s obviously disappointing to lose some of the guys we brought over and their experience,” the flanker said.

“But at the same time there’s enough to do the job and we’re confident in the group that we have.”

Ulster will also have to bear this law change in mind for their trip to South Africa as they have New Zealander Charles Piutau, who, injury permitting, is likely to travel to Port Elizabeth.

Les Kiss’ men are due to travel to face the Southern Kings in early November, and they will have to ensure Piutau is properly registered for a visa if they wish to name him in the touring squad.

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