A BITTER row over a controversial player replacement threatens to rip the Eastern Province Craven Week rugby camp apart ahead of their opening match against South Western Districts in Stellenbosch today.
An injury to a key player has sparked a heated bust-up between players, coaches and officials over the replacement.
It culminated with an extra player boarding the team bus.
After Grey High centre Josiah Boafo was forced to withdraw because of injury, uncertainty existed over who would replace him.
Grey centre Aya Oliphant was informed he was on standby if any player was injured, but in an unexpected move Daniel Pienaar centre Denver Klue was chosen.
The row could not be resolved before the team left for Stellenbosch and both players boarded the bus.
“I find it very sad and disconcerting that two young and talented players are caught up in this confusion,” EP Rugby president Cheeky Watson said.
“At this late stage we do not want to disrupt the Craven Week team and will address the matter after the tournament.”
Advocate Lindi Coetzee, who is assisting Aya Oliphant’s attorneys, said an injustice had taken place.
“When Aya was told he was on standby, a level of expectancy was raised,” Coetzee said.
“A letter was also written by EP president Cheeky Watson to the chairman of the EP High Schools, Mr Willem October, that Aya should be chosen,” Coetzee said.
“However, Mr October disregarded that letter and selected Klue. We then had the situation that both players boarded the bus to Stellenbosch.
“We have since heard that the squad has been trimmed from 23 to 22 players and that Aya has been omitted.
“We will not let this matter rest. Something is not right.”
Efforts to obtain comment from October, who is in Stellenbosch, were fruitless.
Insiders said the omission of Oliphant had created tension and affected morale.
Grey High first team coach Tim Fraser said: “Aya was at an Academy Week and he was told that he would be going to Craven Week.
“The coaching and management staff of Craven Week were very much aware of that as that is what they requested because they had lost a centre. I forwarded an e-mail to EP Rugby chief executive Charl Crous on behalf of the school with questions [about whether] due process had been followed.”
A meeting was called and “we were notified that Cheeky Watson and the powers-that-be had decided to overturn the selection of Denver Klue and insisted they go with Aya Oliphant”, Fraser said.
“As far as we are concerned, this was the selection made in the beginning and it was made for the right rugby reasons.” Fraser said the players were innocent victims in a very unsavoury situation.
“The basic fact is that we reacted to what we thought was unfair treatment of one of our pupils. We did what any other school would have done.
“We simply inquired and put forward an e-mail. Subsequent to that, the instruction given by Mr Watson was not carried out by Mr October.
“The parents did not receive notification of selection or non-selection.
“This did not take place on Saturday night – they all arrived at the bus together. It ended up with both boys getting on the bus.
“The parents were told a decision would be made in Stellenbosch in the morning within the EP management.
“We found out that perhaps that did not take place or did not take place to its completion. The registration of the squad was done without Oliphant being included.
“That is completely against what Mr Watson had told them to do and what the expectation was of all parties concerned,” Fraser said.