Canterbury rugby legend Fergie McCormick has leapt to the defence of the Crusaders, saying accusations that the seven-time Super rugby champions are serial cheats are "well off the mark".
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, a former Crusaders hooker and assistant coach, also said he did not think his former franchise was deliberately flouting the game's rules.
McCormick, an All Blacks fullback between 1965 and 1971, was not surprised by comments made by Mark Reason in his column that ran on stuff.co.nz yesterday.
Reason, a Fairfax columnist, slated the Crusaders as cheats.
The piece generated interest across the world yesterday, with loyal Crusaders fans venting their anger via all possible avenues. The article attracted more than 500 comments on Fairfax websites.
The Crusaders were approached for comment but were told that captain Richie McCaw and head coach Todd Blackadder did not wish to respond.
But McCormick, a former Canterbury Rugby Football Union president, went in to bat for his beleaguered buddies.
Canterbury's most capped player had one question when queried about Reason's column: "Is he related to a John Reason who used to write back when I was playing?"
After it was confirmed that Mark Reason was the son of John Reason, the late rugby correspondent for London's Telegraph newspaper group, McCormick said the column made sense.
"He is a lot worse than his father.
"John was a bit of poison pen back in the day and was always having a moan about something to do with New Zealand rugby and the All Blacks.
"As far as he was concerned, we were always wrong, and it appears that has carried on through to his son as well.
"I think his comments were well off the mark."
Reason also accused McCaw of using bullying tactics against referees to sway decisions in the Crusaders' favour, and of various other indiscretions around the rugby field.
McCormick leapt to the All Blacks captain's defence. "In my opinion, Richie is so quick at some of his play that the refs can't keep up with him," he said.
"The good referees know how to handle that well, but some don't, and it shows up."
The Bulls - who will play the Crusaders in Saturday's Super rugby playoffs at Christchurch's AMI Stadium - yesterday declined to comment.
Head coach Frans Ludeke said Blackadder was "a personal friend" and the Bulls had "huge respect" for the way the Crusaders "conduct themselves on and off the field".
Hammett said he had not read Reason's column but he "certainly wouldn't have thought" the Crusaders were cheats.
He said that if referees were being influenced, they "need to be working on their skills to ensure they're not being influenced".
Hammett said it was human nature to "get away with what you can".
He noted that openside flanker McCaw had always said he approached the first couple of rucks to "test out" the referee's interpretations in the tackle area, "as any good No 7 will". Fairfax NZ
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