It was impossible not to feel for Andrew Hore as he hunched into a small crowded room on the second floor of the All Blacks' hotel.
This was not the usual version of the happy hooker.
There were no witty one-liners, no grunting giddays, no scraggly stubble or casual beanie.
This was a 34-year-old man laid bare after his name had been dragged through the mud for the past three days.
Suit pressed, shoes shined, eyes wide open - Hore took a deep breath in a bid to relieve his anxiety before taking a seat just a few feet in front of the gathered New Zealand media.
"I want to say how bad I feel and how embarrassed I am to be in this situation," he said.
"It is not the All Black way and I have let myself down and the team down and probably the whole country is pretty proud of what we do."
It was uncomfortable to see a hard-man showing his vulnerable side and a guilty moment for those who were quick to demonise the Otago man.
"I have to take what I have got and go back and start building a reputation as a good, clean, hard footy player and hopefully I can do that in the next Super Rugby competition, when I get back playing," he said.
Which is about when the violins stopped playing, and the reality of this messy saga hit home. It has been handled poorly from start to finish by all concerned.
Hore didn't deserve the character assassination he's received in many quarters. He's played 74 tests over 10 years without one serious slip-up.
On that evidence he is not a thug.
This should have been said on Saturday night in Cardiff, not Wednesday afternoon in London.
But Hore did knock a bloke called Bradley Davies out from behind, and for that he deserved a fitting suspension.
Whether he got one for lashing out just because his chase line was impeded at Millennium Stadium is highly debatable.
He didn't mean to knock him out, but he did. It wasn't meant to look ugly, but it did.
The injury caused shouldn't shape the punishment, but it does.
This was an ugly concussion that affected Davies for days.
Yet another chance to send a strong message about reckless play has been missed.
And the IRB judiciary shouldn't have bought a dummy in handing down a soft five-week ban, but they did.
Hore's ban is soft because it includes three pre-season matches of which he will probably benefit from missing, and might not have laced the boots for anyway.
Yes, he is the new captain of the Highlanders, but many All Blacks do not play during the Super Rugby pre-season as they filter back to their franchises after annual leave.
The judiciary were told missing the pre-season would have "significant and meaningful consequences" for Hore.
His coach Steve Hansen said this week player workloads were the biggest issue facing the global game.
Another is the public's perception of an IRB judicial system that is inconsistent and weak, seemingly shackled by guidelines that are easily manipulated by clever lawyers and apologetic players.
NZRU boss Steve Tew pointed out that more rigid guidelines would jeopardise a fair trial and that the guidelines for foul play had been sanctioned after a "morality conference" last year including past players, UK journalists and coaches.
Judging each case individually provided a chance for all sides to be heard, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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