New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Crusaders are set to investigate allegations made about players on tour in South Africa in recent weeks.
The investigation was sparked after a video was circulated on social media from a Cape Town McDonalds, where some men accused a trio of Crusaders players of homophobic and aggressive behaviour.
While a number of players were named by the original accuser, only George Bridge has been confirmed as having been involved.
An accusation also emerged on Tuesday morning that Richie Mo’unga spat beer in the face of women on a night out in South Africa a week earlier.
NZR chief rugby officer Nigel Cass said the allegations were “very serious” but that they had to investigate without any presumptions.
“The allegations that have been made about players, in two different incidences, are very serious. These allegations are about abuse, inappropriate and offensive behavior, and we do not tolerate this,” he said.
“We have very strong values of respect, inclusion and tolerance in Rugby – there is no place for the type of behavior that has been described.
“At the same time, the players are refuting the details of the claims made. Because the nature of these allegations is serious, it is important that we carefully look at these claims without prejudice or assumptions.”
Cass said they were seeking to contact the other people involved and urging them to formally complain to ensure they can investigate thoroughly.
“We are reaching out to the individuals who have made these allegations and urging them to formally lodge their complaints with the Independent Complaints Management Service, which is run by highly regarded lawyer Steph Dyhrberg,” he added.
“We have already discussed with Ms Dyhrberg her involvement in coordinating an investigation into both incidents.”
Crusaders CEO Colins Mainsbridge said the players continued to refute the accusations, backing up comments he made before the team’s return on Monday.
“The players are distraught about the accusations as they continue to refute the alleged version of events,” he said.
“Clearly the right thing to do is to formalise the investigation into these matters, which would allow both sides to be heard.”
New Zealand Rugby and the Crusaders hope the investigation will be concluded as soon as possible.
The allegations began to spread on social media after a Twitter user posted a note about his experience on the weekend.
“We were attacked by members of the New Zealand rugby team in the McDonald’s on Long/Kloof St last night,” the South African twitter user @adamlennoxx wrote.
“As we entered, we were met with jeering and sniggers from them.
“They then proceeded to record us as a joke (also, upon looking on his phone screen, it was a recording for either Insta/Snapchat). When catching them in the act, they told us they did it because we looked funny to them.
“They then said they can record us in a public space if they want to. Upon telling them that this is wrong, they then began physically intimidating us (coming up to our faces, telling us we better stop arguing or they will ‘f**k us up if we don’t watch it’).
“Then, after arguing that straight white men are losing power – we were met with homophobic slurs, limp wrists and high-pitched voices, which were clearly in gest [sic].”
As well as the note, the user posted a four-second video featuring a man, who was not readily identifiable as a member of the Crusaders setup.
He has since switched his account to private but the video spread quickly.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said Bridge had denied any homophobic language was used, defending his player when the side returned to New Zealand on Monday night.
“He’s extremely authentic and genuine that there was nothing ever said – homophobic words or gestures,” Robertson told New Zealand media, after arriving back in Christchurch.
“We’re just really clear that we want to get the truth across and we stand by everything that George said about that interaction. He’s willing to stand up [Tuesday], he’s got absolutely nothing to hide.”
“He’s really upset around everything that’s come out.”