Wellington - All Blacks loose forward Jerome Kaino has
returned home for a "personal matter", New Zealand Rugby said on
Saturday just hours before the side's first Rugby Championship clash with
Australia in Sydney.
Kaino, who has won two Rugby World Cups, had not been named
in the match day squad with Liam Squire given the starting blindside flank
NZR said a media report in Australia about his personal life
had necessitated the 34-year-old's return to Auckland.
The world champions have been enshrouded in off-the-field
controversies this week, with NZR re-opening an investigation into scrumhalf
Aaron Smith's tryst with a woman, who was not his partner, in a toilet at
Christchurch Airport last year.
NZR chief executive Steve Tew said on Saturday the week had
meant his organisation were under pressure.
"We certainly understand that our game and our players
are under public scrutiny and these latest stories are concerning," Tew
said in a statement. "As an employer, we will take some time to assess
"While NZR does not wish to comment on individual
behaviour, it is clear that this is really hurting rugby, all the people
concerned, our fans and supporters.
"We take these issues very seriously, and are also
mindful that these issues affect people with families and loved ones."
The behaviour of their players has not been the only thing
distracting the team in Sydney ahead of the match, which doubles as the first
of three Bledisloe Cup Tests.
A trial against the team's Australian security contractor
also ended on Friday with Adrian Gard found not guilty of public mischief after
a listening device was discovered in the team's hotel ahead of the same fixture
NZR were criticised last year for their handling of an
investigation into the Waikato Chiefs' 'Mad Monday' celebration where the team
hired an exotic dancer, who said she was touched inappropriately and had
alcohol thrown at her.
The incident forced NZR to conduct a review of its culture
and treatment of women. Tew said the review was expected to be made public next
"At a time when we are grappling with our cultural
reputation, the respect and responsibility review, which is currently under
way, is even more important," Tew said.
"The review is being presented to the NZR Board this
month and we are looking to make that public sometime in September."