Crusaders insiders slam Andy Haden's slur
Warren Alcock, one of New Zealand's leading player agents, has dismissed Andy Haden's allegations that the Crusaders discriminate against Pacific Islanders.
While Haden was yesterday unrepentant about saying the Crusaders had a "ceiling" of recruiting up to three Pacific Island players, Alcock had never heard of such a policy in 15 years dealing with the franchise.
"I have never, ever, heard the Crusaders, or Canterbury, ever mention race as an issue in relation to selection, recruitment or retention of players. Ever," said Alcock, a highly influential rugby agent-manager who works for the New Zealand arm of Essentially Group.
"I have represented a significant number of Crusaders over the years and I am sure if there was any hint of anything Andy is talking about having any force, I would have heard something. It is not as though my involvement with the Crusaders is confined to one or two people. I deal with the whole hierarchy."
Alcock is rated as one of the most powerful men in New Zealand sport, with Richie McCaw and Dan Carter among his clients.
Yesterday Haden admitted he had overstepped the mark by saying the Crusaders had a policy "in the manual and enshrined in their articles" but added: "Yes, [the policy is] set in stone and ... that's wrong but the principle remains and this is an issue for New Zealand rugby."
However, Alcock, who said he had dealt with "everyone" at the Crusaders, from CEOs and coaches to players, said Haden's comments should not be taken seriously.
"You expect Andy to say controversial things, I guess. When I read them I just thought, `That's Andy'. If I was involved with the Crusaders in any form I would be disappointed with the comments."
Haden stunned Sky TV viewers this week when he claimed the Crusaders had a threshold of how many "darkies" they could woo to the franchise: "Once they've recruited three, that's it. That's their ceiling. Three darkies ... no more," said the former lock, who played 117 matches for the All Blacks from 1972 to 1985, including 41 tests.
Although Haden's comments will have resonated far beyond New Zealand's shores, Alcock was confident it would not tarnish their image or ability to sign players.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, who took over from Robbie Deans last year, was furious.
"I would really like to think that everyone knows that it is just crazy. But what irritates me the most is that it is just absolute bloody lies. But mud sticks, you know."
Haden's comments coincide with a meeting between the agent of All Blacks prospect Sonny Bill Williams and Blackadder and the Crusaders in Christchurch this week.
Blackadder believed that even if Haden intended his comments to be tongue-in-cheek there was potential for damage to the franchise brand.
"It is just wrong. I just hope that people can see through it all. We do not discriminate against anyone. The only policy we have is that we can select the best players that can win a championship. That is all we can do."
Deans, now Wallabies coach, would not comment yesterday but a spokesman said: "It's just so ridiculous that it is not worth giving air time."