The Crusaders have handed over the investigation into two separate incidents in Cape Town involving their players to an independent lawyer and will also put their team protocols, particularly those around alcohol consumption, under the spotlight.
After two difficult days for the franchise, the move in conjunction with New Zealand Rugby to appoint senior lawyer Steph Dyhrberg to head the investigation into allegations of homophobic behaviour in a McDonald's restaurant by a trio of players, including George Bridge, after their recent draw against the Stormers, and inappropriate behaviour from Richie Mo'unga in a bar after their win over the Bulls a week earlier, will give them breathing space at least.
All of the players involved, including Bridge and Mo'unga, deny the allegations which have set social and mainstream media alight. All will be available to play the Blues in Christchurch on Saturday night.
Both the Crusaders and New Zealand Rugby have spelled out in clear terms how seriously they are taking what they consider to be allegations of unacceptable behaviour and now the onus is on the accusers to step away from their social media accounts and into a meaningful dialogue with Dyhrberg.
"At the moment we're in a he-said, she-said situation and it's difficult to uncover what actually happened so we think an independent investigator with Steph Dyhrberg, a reputable QC, is probably the best way forward," Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge said in a press conference.
"I've talked to the players involved this morning and they're clearly gutted. They're looking to cooperate fully with the investigation and we can't wait for that to happen."
Mansbridge added: "A lot of the social media comment has been about sweeping things under the carpet and that sort of thing. Well, I've heard a version of events [and] it's different to what some of the social media complaints have suggested. We just need to put it to someone independent as soon as possible."
Mansbridge, new to the role this year and also awaiting a review into the Crusaders name and branding following the horrific mass shooting at the two Christchurch mosques in March, said Dyhrberg would make recommendations to New Zealand Rugby following the investigation and if the allegations were found to be true "it's potentially a disciplinary matter".
Crusaders huddle as the TMO checks a possible forward pass during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images.
He said reports from players, management, team security staff and McDonald's security staff, and other "independent people" stated no homophobic comments were made by Bridge or his teammates on Sunday morning NZT.
Six days earlier in a bar, Mo'unga is alleged to have spat beer and pinched a woman's backside. In a social media apology to a woman accusing him of spitting beer in her direction, he admitted to being intoxicated only.
Asked about whether it was appropriate that Mo'unga was in a state where he couldn't remember anything, Mansbridge replied that that wasn't the case. "In the apology he said 'intoxicated' and that he doesn't remember the incident. I think it's easy to make the link. We'd like Steph Dyhrberg to have a look into that and get to the bottom of it."
New Zealand's Super Rugby players are warned to take precautions when on tour – especially in South Africa which has unique security issues. Protocols around drinking alcohol and curfews are normally set immediately after matches and all of these issues will now be re-assessed by the Crusaders and probably every other Kiwi side.
"Whenever something happens you always have to stop and say 'right, what could we do better and differently' and absolutely we'll be sitting down and thinking about that…," Mansbridge said. "We've already started asking what were the team rules and protocols and should they be reviewed."
Some of the Crusaders' social media accounts have been made private following their trip home and Mansbridge said there was probably a simple explanation for that.
"One thing I've learned through our branding experience, especially on social media, is the world operates in a series of bubbles and if the bubbles move around and over you and your account it can be quite an uncomfortable place to be; the vitriol and the way people treat each other, it can be pretty unpleasant."