Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has offered an emotional apology to renowned Ōtaki carver Bill Doyle and his family after his team earlier admitted to breaking the custom-made Super Rugby Aotearoa trophy during post-match celebrations.
The Crusaders dominated sporting headlines this week after it emerged that they had severely damaged Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa, a trophy created by Doyle and designed in consultation with Te Wānanga o Raukawa master-carver Jason Hina, to be awarded to the winner of the Kiwi-only competition in the wake of the disruption and turmoil caused by Covid-19.
The Crusaders claimed an unprecedented fourth successive Super Rugby title last Sunday, after defeating the Highlanders 32-22 in Christchurch.
Robertson addressed the media shortly after the announcement that the Crusaders' final match of this campaign, in Auckland against the Blues, had been cancelled following the Government's decision to keep the city at level 3 because of community transmission of Covid-19.
"Part of the reason we wanted to put in a really good performance [was] the actual trophy, Tū Kōtahi, but obviously what's happened during the week ... I formally want to say on behalf of the Crusaders and myself, it's been quite a tough week for us," Robertson said.
"We didn't respect the trophy and I would like to apologise to Bill and [son] Sam Doyle and mana whenua. We gave our hearts and souls to win it and that took a lot of our focus this week."
Robertson revealed the team had on Friday spent time discussing the incident and the fallout in an attempt to educate themselves on the significance of the trophy.
"Today we wanted to start the restorative process towards it and build some more respect so we did a karakia and we haka'd it just to start to formalise that process."
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Doyle's daughter Geena claimed the trophy had been used as a doorstop during the Crusaders' celebrations and that some of the players had used it "inappropriately".
The Crusaders have denied these allegations but, according to Robertson, had reached out to the Doyle family to apologise.
"Codie [Taylor, Crusaders captain] has reached out, Whetukamokamo Douglas as well on how we can pay respects," Robertson said.
"To be fair, we've had that in the back of our minds and we've just wanted to do the right thing. We'd love to go up there [Ōtaki] formally, face-to-face to formalise this process.
"[Douglas] spoke today [to the team] with a lot of heart. Our knowledge of the trophy wasn't strong enough. It is now. If we knew what we know now ...
"There was no malice, there was no intent. What we did wasn't respectful enough and he explained that to us. It was quite an emotional day for us."