Wed, Feb 13, 2008 - Page 19 News List

Force defy O'Neill, pick Henjak

DEADLINE ARU chief executive John O'Neill says he will consider intervening if the Western Force do not discipline a player who broke his teammate's jaw before Friday

AGENCIES , SYDNEY AND PERTH, AUSTRALIA

Western Force scrumhalf Matt Henjak passes the ball in Perth, Australia, on Feb. 24 last year. Henjak is under investigation for breaking a teammate's jaw.

PHOTO: AFP

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has slammed the Western Force for allowing scrumhalf Matt Henjak to play in this weekend's opening round of Super 14 matches while he is under investigation for breaking a teammate's jaw.

ARU chief executive John O'Neill said he had asked the Western Force not to pick Henjak while the case was pending and was dismayed that the club had selected him anyway.

"While natural justice demands any player is innocent until proven guilty, we believe there is justification to stand down any player who has a disciplinary hearing pending," O'Neill said in a statement yesterday.

"The game is bigger than individuals. Disciplinary matters need to be taken seriously and dealt with accordingly, and in isolation, regardless of the team dynamics," he said.

Western Force officials had confirmed that Henjak is being investigated over an alleged fight with winger Haig Sare at a Western Australia hotel on Sunday.

Rugby WA's acting chief executive Mitch Hardy said Sare suffered a broken jaw and has since had a metal plate inserted into his face to repair the injury. He is expected to be out of action for at least six weeks.

Hardy told the Australian Associated Press that both players were likely to face serious disciplinary procedures but Henjak would still be considered for selection until the case had been resolved.

The ARU asked Western Force not to select Henjak but he left with the squad when they flew to South Africa yesterday to prepare for their first match against the Sharks in Durban on Friday.

"At this point in time we are comfortable that we have carried sufficient interviews and investigations," Hardy said.

"Until that point in time Matt will be permitted to travel with the team. But there certainly is indication that a hearing will take place at some stage over the next one-to-two weeks so we can resolve this matter. You have got two player's careers that are on the line," he said.

Coach John Mitchell said Henjak would start the Force's first game against the Coastal Sharks in Durban on Friday.

"Yes, he will [start the match] ... he deserves his selection. The team has put an enormous amount of work in the season into this first fixture," Mitchell said.

"It would be totally unfair on everyone in the organization and the team if weren't to select the best players to go on the field," he said.

O'Neill said he had since written to the Western Australia-based franchise asking them to conduct the hearing before Friday's match and would consider intervening if the case was not dealt with quickly.

"Under the code of conduct, the ARU has the authority to intervene if it believes an incident of a sufficiently serious nature has occurred and a province does not take appropriate action to resolve the situation," O'Neill said.

"If that was the case, we could serve notice on a province that the ARU will take over the matter and convene a hearing before a three-man ARU tribunal," he said.

Henjak, 26, played four Tests for Australia after making his debut in 2004 and was once considered as a possible long-term replacement for George Gregan, but his career has been clouded by a series of off-field disciplinary issues.

Henjak was sent home from the Wallabies' tour of South Africa in 2005 after officials found he had thrown ice at a group of students in a Cape Town nightclub.

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