The England rugby team closed ranks yesterday and refused to comment on the uproar surrounding a “serious allegation” against four players at a luxury Auckland hotel.
England captain Steve Borthwick spoke to the media in Christchurch, but refused to comment on the police investigation, saying the team’s attention was entirely on Saturday’s second Test against the All Blacks.
“When you’ve got a game against the All Blacks at the weekend the focus is very clear,” he said. “The players have worked tremendously hard in training. We will provide a better performance and a better account of ourselves this weekend.”
Borthwick referred any questions over the alleged incident at Auckland’s waterfront Hilton Hotel early on Sunday to acting head coach Rob Andrew, but the coach stayed silent yesterday.
The police also refused to comment, although state-owned Television New Zealand reported that detectives did not get to question the four players allegedly involved yesterday, but have asked the England management to speak to them.
The nature of the alleged incident remained unclear, with both police and the England management refusing to discuss the claims.
The incident allegedly occurred just hours after England were beaten by the All Blacks in the first Test.
Auckland police communications manager Noreen Hegarty declined to comment yesterday except to say it was unknown how long the police investigation would take.
“It’s an ongoing investigation and it will take its course,” Hegarty said. “It depends what the investigation throws up.”
Police said on Wednesday the alleged offense in a private room was brought to their attention on Sunday evening, but no formal complaint had been made.
Hegarty would neither confirm nor deny a report by state-owned Television New Zealand on Wednesday quoting unnamed sources as saying the allegation related to the rape of a woman.
Andrew had confirmed the investigation in a brief statement on Wednesday, but refused to take any questions at a press conference.
“Whilst no formal complaint has been made, we are cooperating with the police in their inquiries,” he said.
New Zealand press reports yesterday quoted a woman who claimed about five women returned to the Hilton Hotel with England players after drinking with them at an Auckland bar early on Sunday.
The woman, whom the New Zealand Herald said wanted to be named only as “Angel Barbie,” said she had no knowledge of the allegation under police investigation.
The 22-year-old woman told the Herald she stayed the night with a player and continued sleeping when the team went for a swim and physiotherapy.
Later when they returned, she heard a loud noise coming from the hall and about four players came into the room. One grabbed the bed cover off her bed, exposing her half-dressed body, and ran down the hallway with the cover, the Herald reported.
“I think they were just sort of playing silly buggers and going round to all the rooms and seeing which girls were where,” she reportedly said.
The All Blacks are meanwhile bracing for a second-Test onslaught from England tomorrow.
All Blacks backs coach Steve Hansen said yesterday he believed the off-field attention aimed at England would fire them up more for the second Test.
“I think they will batten down the hatches and look after each other,” Hansen said. “I think anyone that gets beaten is always going to be dangerous anyway, and they’ve been beaten, and now they’ve got this thing that’s uniting them so they’ll be very dangerous.”
The All Blacks have problems of their own to contend with after being outplayed by England in the lineouts last week.
Hansen laid the blame on his own forwards and said a perceived breach of the rules by England hooker Lee Mears, cited in some New Zealand media as contributing to the problems, was an accepted tactic.
“What we’ve got to concentrate on at lineout time is our basics and we didn’t do our basics well,” he said. “Forget about their hooker coming in and lifting, good on him for doing it. Everybody tries and does it most weeks. If we do our basics right we’ll win our ball.”
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