New Zealand Rugby confirms independent review after series of off-field incidents

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and NZRU CEO Steve Tew. Photo / File
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and NZRU CEO Steve Tew. Photo / File

Under fire following a string of off-field scandals, New Zealand Rugby has confirmed an independent review is underway within the besieged organisation.

In a statement this evening, NZR said it was setting up a review into "respect and responsibility in our professional environment.

"The intention is for this review, once it has been established, to be thorough and transparent. We will provide the detail once it is finalised."

Earlier it was reported the organisation was setting up a "cultural change" panel, with a possible meeting planned tomorrow.

However NZR said tonight: "We have the draft Terms of Reference and are still working on appointing all members of the independent panel, so no meeting is scheduled for tomorrow"

The announcement follows a series of high profile off-field incidents which have rocked the code in recent weeks, including the Chiefs stripper saga and Aaron Smith disabled toilet tryst.

Labour MP Louisa Wall, a former Black Fern said she was pleased to hear about the panel, and suggestions it would be made up mostly of women.

"I think it's great. If the majority of the members are women, then this for me is the first step toward making sure women are represented in the rugby board itself," she said.

"If it's happening and more than half of the people involved are going to be women then it's an acknowledgement by the rugby union they need women to help sort out the cultural challenges they've been having."

A series of incidents raising questions about the sport's attitude toward women have rocked NZ Rugby in recent months.

In the latest incident, a Southland Stags rugby player has been sentenced to 18 months' intensive supervision after admitting three charges of masturbating in a public place, twice in front of young girls.

Dillan Halaholo, 23, was convicted in the Invercargill District Court today.

He was unlikely to play in any further Southland rugby games and it was understood his Stags contract had been torn up following his off-field behaviour, Fairfax reported.

Meanwhile, a member of the Mid Canterbury team has been charged with assault with intent to rape following an alleged incident in Gisborne this month.

A police spokeswoman told the Herald a player in his 20s was arrested on October 2 and is due to appear before the Gisborne District Court on October 31.

It is understood the alleged incident occurred the day after Mid Canterbury played East Coast in Ruatoria.

NZR chief executive Steve Tew said the organisation was aware of an allegation involving a player from Mid Canterbury, and has been providing support to the union.

"A court suppression order is in place and we are not able to comment further at this stage.

"However, New Zealand Rugby will continue to monitor this situation closely."

NZR last month came under criticism for its handling of the Chiefs' stripper saga, after an investigation into the matter uncovered no evidence to support claims made by a woman who performed for the team at an end-of-season function.

The Chiefs' Mad Monday celebrations in August kicked off a chain of distasteful incidents when it was alleged players abused a stripper they had hired for their event.

She claimed players threw gravel at her and touched and licked her without consent.

The sport once more found itself in the spotlight following the Losi Filipo assault case, with the Wellington junior discharged without conviction after injuring two men and two women.

And All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith was last week banned for one match following a tryst with a woman in a disabled bathroom at Christchurch Airport. The player is still to face a disciplinary process.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue, who penned an open letter to NZ Rugby following the Chiefs stripper saga, said of the panel: "It hasn't been launched yet and we're not making any comment until it is."

The Love Rugby, Respect Women campaign alleged NZR had an issue with women in the sport and offered the knowledge of women's rights and anti sexual violence advocates.

Nearly 7300 people signed the online open letter.

- NZ Herald

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