WELLINGTON – All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen is under fire for attempting to justify the selection in his Rugby Championship squad of a player charged over domestic violence.
Crusaders winger Sevu Reece was charged with "male assaults female", the New Zealand legal term for spousal abuse, after injuring his wife in a drunken assault last year.
Reece was not convicted because the judge who heard his case considered there were mitigating circumstances and a conviction would have a detrmimental effect on his professional career.
The then 21-year-old had signed a contract with the Irish club Connacht but the club rescinded the contract because of Reece's court appearance. He was also let go by his Waikato province in New Zealand but was later picked up by the Crusaders and became the leading try-scoring in Super Rugby this season with 15.
That led to his call up to the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship but the selection has been opposed by anti-domestic violence groups and others.
In a radio interview Saturday, Hansen — a former policeman — attempted to explain the selection but his comments have inflamed opponents.
(Domestic violence is) "a big part of our society unfortunately," Hansen told Radio Sport. "So rugby is going to have people within its community that are involved in this.
"And having been a policeman, I've seen plenty of it. And I know it's not just restricted to males assaulting women, women assault males too. It's not a gender thing, it's a New Zealand problem."
Hansen's assertion that female assaults on males are commonplace is not supported by statistics. He suggested the Crusaders and All Blacks were well-placed to provide the "rehabilitation" Reece needs to overcome anger and violence.
"He's come into an environment in the Crusaders where they've put a lot of things around him that have helped educate him, they've helped him understand that to be a good person you have to do certain things and by doing that he's shown a lot of remorse for what he's done," Hansen said.
"He's been actively trying to better himself and also when he comes into our environment we already have a policy that better people make better All Blacks so we continue that with each and every individual we've got."
Feminist columnist Alison Mau attacked Hansen's "fervent but flawed and misguided evaluation of domestic violence."
"Yes, Hansen was a cop back in the day but what he saw on the beat back then does not change the facts," she said. "Men do report violence from female partners, but it tends to be far less severe than women experience, and men do not generally live in perpetual fear for their lives as a consequence."