By MARC HINTON in Christchurch, RugbyHeaven
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was not keen to weigh in on the controversy swirling round the England rugby team ahead of Saturday night's second test in Christchurch, though he has spoken out on the responsibilities he and his team-mates face when they go out in the public arena.
Serious allegations have been made that four England players were involved in an incident in a private room at their luxury Auckland waterfront hotel following last Saturday's opening test against the All Blacks. Police are investigating the claims, though they have said at this stage that no formal complaint has been received.
Today England's stand-in manager Rob Andrew would only say, in addition to reading out a prepared statement released earlier in the day, that "the players concerned have the complete support of all players and management".
Andrew then asked the assembled media to "respect the fact that no further comment can be made or questions asked of either myself or the players on this matter".
McCaw was asked when he fronted the media at the All Blacks' hotel in Christchurch today how distracting allegations like those being faced by England could be ahead of a test match.
"I don't know," said McCaw. "I've never really had that. I understand that's the case but you'd have to ask them really."
McCaw was then asked if a controversy like this could serve to bind the England team even closer leading into a major test.
"I'm not sure," replied McCaw. "You could look at it two ways, [but] whether it does that or not, I'm not sure. In our situation I've never really had that so I can't comment."
But McCaw was prepared to be more forthright on the dangers faced by modern professional sportsmen going out in public. Already this week across the Tasman there has been a claim by New Zealand rugby league star Benji Marshall that he was set up by a member of the public who then sold images of a late-night incident to a newspaper.
"The reality is when you're an All Black there's people watching no matter whether you're on time off or whatever," said McCaw. "You have got to be aware and that's just a simple fact.
"And I guess we always see there's times when people perhaps let their guard down."
But McCaw refused to label the intense scrutiny as a "downside" of being an All Black.
"It's just something you accept that people watch what you do," he added.
The All Blacks captain, whose relationship with dancer Hayley Holt has already drawn its share of attention from certain segments of the media, said he did not feel too restricted by what he'd experienced living in Christchurch.
But he did agree a certain "responsibility" went with being an All Black in New Zealand.
"It's not just as captain, but as an All Black people look up to what you do. If people do wrong then [other] people find out about it. You do have to be aware, and I guess there are times when people make mistakes and you've just got to learn from it."
The England players were putting on their bravest faces ahead of the second test, and though they weren't allowed to be questioned on the alleged incidents, they did get a grilling on their "focus" and potential "distractions" ahead of Saturday night's international at AMI Stadium.
Young loose forward James Haskell said it was not difficult to shut out the distractions being faced this week.
"We've got a test match against New Zealand this week. We lost the first game and I don't think you can afford any distractions to get in your way. I think as players nothing should distract us. You're in the wrong job if you get distracted," he added.
Added reserve back Olly Barkley: "I don't think you get selected for England if you're a mental weed. Everyone knows there's things that aren't ideal at the moment, but they get on with the job. There's a game to play and hopefully a game to win."
It's an invidious position for England, for unless this story goes away it looks certain to hang over their heads all the way into the second test on Saturday night.
As if the All Blacks weren't enough for them to deal with!
McCaw doesn't want an England jersey