Section 106 of the New Zealand Sentencing Act allows for discharge without conviction if any penalty would far exceed the crime.
Cynics, especially those who dislike the hold rugby has on the country, joke there's a secret section 106 (A) which states any All Black charged with a crime will be automatically discharged with the guarantee of name suppression.
But one All Black, Rene Ranger, will not be seeing the funny side of anything right now.
It took a jury in Whangarei just 90 minutes to find him not guilty of an alleged assault in the car park of the Mangawhai Tavern three years ago.
The publicity the case has attracted, and the pressure it must have put on Ranger, is a reminder how being a rugby star in a rugby-mad country can have its downside, as well as its perks.
You might wonder if a case, in which the central witness, the man who said he was assaulted, admitted he was so drunk he had no memory of the incident, would have even come to court if the accused had been Rene Smith, carpenter, and not Rene Ranger, All Black.
I'm not suggesting bad behaviour and heavy drinking by All Blacks should be condoned, and rugby officials have shown by their actions they certainly don't ignore such problems.
Ask Norm Hewitt, or, more recently, Zac Guildford, both of whom have suffered the 21st-century equivalent of the town stocks, being ritually humiliated on national television, after boozing craziness.
Of course serial bad behaviour after heavy drinking does need addressing, more for the health of the man involved, than for the safety of the public or the image of the game.
But are we expecting too much for young, single men to forever lock themselves in a germ-free environment? It might sometimes seem the behaviour of today's players is worse than in the past.
I'd suggest it's about the same as it ever was. The big difference now is that an All Black on the town in the amateur era never had at his elbow a budding paparazzi with a camera phone and an instant connection to an online network. The activities stay the same, but the spotlight shone on them is much brighter.
And if some furrow-browed old codger starts jeering at any misdemeanour by a current player, just remind him that the only time an All Black was ever convicted of assault on tour was 33 years ago, in Edinburgh. Brian Ford was fined £10 for pushing a bouncer who wouldn't let him into a night club. Some things, you see, never really change.
- Sunday Star Times
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