(Reuters) - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has dismissed claims New Zealand Rugby held off reporting the discovery of a listening device at the team hotel in Sydney last year until the day of their match against Australia in a bid to disrupt the hosts’ preparations.
The ‘Spygate’ incident soured relations between the rugby rivals throughout last season and tensions resurfaced this week after Australian police charged a security consultant contracted by the All Blacks with public mischief, nearly six months after launching an investigation.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) waited five days before reporting the device to Australian police on the day of the match last August, then held a media conference to announce the discovery.
Although New Zealand made no accusations against their opponents, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said this week that there were “inferences” made against his team.
Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver complained that the delay in making the report had left a “bitter taste”, while local media demanded an apology from New Zealand rugby.
Hansen, who described the security consultant’s arrest and charging as “bizarre”, denied the timing of the report of the device was strategic.
“The Wallabies were already under enough pressure and it’s not something ... as I said, the integrity of the game is bigger than winning or losing, and it’s not something we would do,” he told New Zealand radio station Newstalk ZB.
”It’s unfortunate it came out at that point and both sides were affected by it, because it was a shock to everyone in our group who weren’t aware of it -- we kept it pretty quiet.
“There’s no advantage to us. To hear (Pulver) saying we were trying to put them off is just rubbish.”
Adrian Gard, a 51-year-old security consultant who had been used by the All Blacks for nearly a decade in Australia, will face court next month.
An Australian newspaper reported this week that Gard had denied any wrongdoing in the affair, and Hansen said he deserved a fair hearing.
“I don’t understand it. I know the guy that has been charged with it and I’ve got a lot of time and a lot of respect for him,” the World Cup-winning coach said.
”I don’t see any motive for him to do it. That’s why I can’t believe it.
”He’s someone we hold in high regard.
”We took him to the World Cup in 2015, so he’s not a fly-by-nighter and he’s not a fly-by-nighter in his business -- he’s massively respected.
“We don’t have people working for us who aren’t experts, aren’t good at what they do and that you can’t trust.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford