All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has strongly defended Sevu Reece's selection in his team's Rugby Championship squad, saying the exciting uncapped wing deserves a chance to better himself after an earlier domestic violence charge.
In a wide-ranging interview with Radio Sport's Jim Kayes, Hansen addressed New Zealand's domestic violence problems and said he hoped Reece could be a role model for change.
In October, Reece, now 22, was discharged without conviction in the Hamilton District Court on one count of male assaults female, which he admitted to, and he has since blossomed during his time in Christchurch, scoring 15 tries on the field and satisfying all off it that he is not only comfortable in Super Rugby but that he has potential to be the same at the next level.
Hansen and his fellow selectors believe the Fijian-born Reece has the character and quality to represent New Zealand and thrive in the high-pressure test rugby environment following his standout performances with the Crusaders in his first year of Super Rugby.
Hansen said Reece made a bad mistake, but has been through the 'right process' and in future has the potential to be a leader in New Zealand's struggles with domestic violence.
"You've got to remove him out of it and say, look there's been a domestic violence incident, do we agree with it? No we don't," said Hansen. "Does the New Zealand Rugby Union? No they don't. Do the Crusaders? No, they don't.
"But, it's a big part of our society unfortunately. So rugby is going to have people within its community that are involved in this.
"And having been a policeman, I've seen plenty of it. And I know it's not just restricted to males assaulting women, women assault males too. It's not a gender thing, it's a New Zealand problem.
"Why is it a problem? Because we're all a product of our upbringing. And unfortunately, some of us reflect our parents. Our parents may not want to hear that but they have a huge responsibility to bring us up in a way that we would like to see people conduct themselves.
"In some cases, unfortunately, the kids in the family follow the same methods as the people they live with. And if they don't get the right support and they don't get the right help, then they end up going down a path that we don't want them too. And we can't deny that it's happening in this country because we see it all the time. When I was a policeman I saw it all the time.
"To simplify it a little bit, there's usually two types of domestic violence. One where you've got a control freak, male or female, or two, you've got a frustrated male or female, and they strike out. And that's two different types of people. So when you look at this particular case, rather than asking the question 'why has rugby brought Sev in and looked after him?', the question I'd ask is 'what would happen if we didn't?'
"He's come into an environment in the Crusaders where they've put a lot of things around him that have helped educate him, they've helped him understand that to be a good person you have to do certain things, and by doing that he's shown a lot of remorse for what he's done. He's been actively trying to better himself and also, when he comes into our environment we already have a policy that better people make better All Blacks so we continue that with each and every individual we've got.
"Now you don't always get it right, because people make mistakes, and it's not just rugby people that make mistakes in life. We've got former prime ministers that have made mistakes. We all make mistakes. But I don't think it's fair to then turn around and say 'why are we picking this guy, he's not a role model?'.
"I would challenge people to say he could be a role model, if we give him the support and education and he buys into it, which he is doing. He can actually be a role model to change, for change and to give others who have had a similar experience in their younger lives, hope that they can do it a different way. And we can break the cycle of domestic violence.
"Because if we don't support these kids, and surround them with the right support, learnings and love, then they're going to continue doing what they're doing - and there will be more victims.
"I have no problem selecting Sevu Reece because I know he's been through a process that has been very challenging for him. I know the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Crusaders have great systems in place for that, the justice system has dealt with him. And I'm seeing, everyday, a kid go out and play good rugby. So not only is he doing the job off the field, with his support, he's also doing the job on the field. So why wouldn't we pick him? Why wouldn't we try to get a young man who's made a mistake to see the error in his ways? And then get him to use that knowledge, and improvement in himself, to help others.
"That's one of the wonderful things about sport. You can help people in a different environment become better people."