Rugby’s burning questions: Crusaders controversy, All Blacks angst, Israel Folau

There has been plenty to pore over for rugby fans this week, from the accusations of inappropriate behaviour from the Crusaders in South Africa, to Steve Hansen anointing Sonny Bill Williams as World Cup bound, right through to the latest instalment of the Israel Folau soap opera.

Stuff‘s rugby scribes tackle a tight five of hot topics for the week and provide their responses:

Has the past week’s accusations out of South Africa tarnished the Crusaders reputation any for you?

Marc Hinton: It’s a long bow to suggest something is amiss in the culture of the Crusaders because two or three players may have misbehaved in isolated situations. So no. But what it has done is offer a timely reminder of two things: a) nothing good ever happens when you go out in South Africa after 10pm; and b) rugby players have to learn that in this age of social media their actions are always under scrutiny. They should know, they spend enough time on it building their ‘influencer’ brand. 

Paul Cully: Not yet, but unless the independent inquiry provides a compelling rebuttal of the allegations some of the mud might stick. And I’m not sure Richie Mo’unga’s apparent admission of intoxication in the week before the Stormers game, in a World Cup year, with Damian McKenzie already out, does him any favours. 

Aaron Goile: No. Firstly, until the investigation uncovers exactly what went on, it’s hard to judge the situations. But, even so, the Crusaders are merely just one of many sports teams who employ young men, who can do things they shouldn’t, and get in the news for the wrong reasons. Rather than the club being tarnished so much, it’s more the individual who it reflects badly on.

Robert van Royen: No. As it stands, they’re accusations. Let’s see how the independent investigation plays out. 

The Crusaders have remained tight through the allegations of impropriety out of South Africa.


The Crusaders have remained tight through the allegations of impropriety out of South Africa.

What do you make of the way the Christchurch franchise has handled the controversy?

HInton: Smart. There is a legitimate lesson here for other franchises and, probably, for Raelene Castle across the ditch. They immediately front-footed the issue(s), put their chief executive up as the spokesperson and though there was a slight whiff about their haste to unequivocally back their players, you have to admire the solidarity under the gun. Smartest move: they immediately shifted the investigation to a respected third party which essentially shut down their role and put it in the hands of a neutral investigator. Now let’s await the outcome.

Cully: There’s a contradiction between the Crusaders effectively clearing their own players before announcing an independent review so that part could have been handled better. Why would the accusers contribute to any official inquiry after the Crusaders took that stance?

Goile: Pretty solidly, it looks like. They fronted with not just a written statement but also had the CEO up to media in quick fashion soon after the news broke. Seeing the coach front at the airport also painted a solid picture of backing his players. In conjunction with New Zealand Rugby, an independent investigation is the right way to go, to get all the facts sorted. I’m also comfortable with the players being available for selection, until proven guilty of something.

Van Royen: No complaints. They’ve fronted media and wasted no time alerting New Zealand Rugby and instructing lawyer Steph Dyhrberg to conduct an independent investigation. There’s really not much more they can do at this stage. 

Ryan Crotty is strongly tipped to get the nod in a tight World Cup selection scenario.


Ryan Crotty is strongly tipped to get the nod in a tight World Cup selection scenario.

Now Steve Hansen has anointed Sonny Bill Williams as a World Cup selection if fit, would you run with Ryan Crotty or Ngani Laumape as your second 12 option?

Hinton: Might be the toughest call in the entire 31-man squad. Both Crotty and Laumape deserve to be in Japan on form. I think we all see that. But if Hansen is intent on picking SBW on reputation, that means there’s room for only one. I’d take Laumape. Williams covers off the experience factor. Laumape brings X-factor, line-breaking and is a game-changer. He could win a knockout game. Remember those rushing defensive lines that shackled the All Blacks last year? The Canes pocket rocket is the perfect antidote to that. Crotty, though, would not let anyone down. 

Cully: Crotty. He got them out of the mud at Twickenham last year after Williams went off early. He’s got the runs on the board to make that flight to Japan and I believe he’d make Beauden Barrett’s life easier at No 10.

Goile: Mind-boggling that Williams is effectively inked in already pending fitness, but if it’s Crotty v Laumape then it’s Crotty, hands-down. Experience, versatility, solidity, communication, defence, and a potential well-established partnership with Jack Goodhue would get him the nod over Laumape, who’s the more similar to SBW.

Van Royen: Ryan Crotty, by the skin of his teeth.  He’s playing some of the best rugby of his career for the Crusaders right now and you want his smarts in the squad for Japan. 

Nic Berry was a neutral referee for the Crusaders' clash against the Stormers in Cape Town.


Nic Berry was a neutral referee for the Crusaders’ clash against the Stormers in Cape Town.

What’s your take on the South African referee situation, and is it time for Sanzaar to go back to neutral officials?

Hinton: The numbers don’t lie. Houston, we have a problem. Essentially certain South African referees are incapable of officiating teams from their own country against offshore sides in a neutral manner. There is no place for bias, perceived or actual, in professional sport. Surely Sanzaar see that and will act accordingly. To take their default mode and bury their heads in the sand is simply not acceptable. The competition’s credibility demands a response. 

Cully: I don’t believe in conspiracy theories but I do believe that perception can be a powerful thing and Super Rugby fans deserve neutral referees. As Steve Hansen pointed out, how on earth can the Lions have conceded only six penalties in three hours of rugby against overseas sides in Johannesburg?

Goile: I’ve always been comfortable enough with non-neutral refs – I used to be one, and know how absurd the accusation of bias is – but man, does it look like the time must have come though. Egon Seconds whistling 20-1 and 11-2 penalty counts in favour of the Lions over the Rebels and Waratahs, followed by Rasta Rasivhenge’s 12-3 to them over the Highlanders just makes for an awfully bemusing situation. Yes, some teams infringe more and deserve to be pinged, but surely there’s inconsistencies here about whether a ref is blowing things up quickly or verbally managing the situations.

Van Royen: The sooner the better neutral officials return the better. There is simply no way the Lions only infringed six times in their past three home games. That 43-6 penalty count against visiting teams under South African referees in Johannesburg is staggering. As for South African TMO Marius Jonker, shame on him, of all people, for not knowing the rules regarding forward passes. 

Israel Folau's judicial process with Australian Rugby has now played out with his contract termination.


Israel Folau’s judicial process with Australian Rugby has now played out with his contract termination.

Now the Israel Folau rugby process has played out to the point it has what’s your chief takeaway?

Hinton: That this is not over. Folau has been a very silly, obstinate and churlish young man and has paid for it with his job. In an age where professional athletes are obliged to use their profile responsibly, he crossed the line. But ask yourself this simple question: should you lose your job for expressing your religious beliefs? A disciplinary panel might have one view, but don’t be surprised if a court of law takes a different one. Plus Aussie rugby has been, and will continue to be, the big loser in all of this.

Cully: It’s not the 1950s any more. The attitudes he promoted are from a bygone era and, importantly, they are bad for business. Remember the All Blacks’ ‘rainbow jersey’ campaign last year? That was driven by AIG. Sponsors pay the bills, boys.

Goile: That what had to happen did happen. The guy couldn’t have remained in the game with how he’d broken from his employer’s values so publicly, again. It’s also set somewhat of a line in the sand as a test case for anyone else who tracks down that path in future.

Van Royen: That Folau sure stands by what he believes, even it means losing millions of dollars and never playing for his country again. 


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Publish date : 2019-05-24 00:09:00

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