Rugby: Review to tackle New Zealand's macho rugby culture

Wellington (AFP) - New Zealand Rugby (NZR) on Wednesday named a high-powered panel to examine sexism in the game following recent scandals.

The so-called "respect and responsibility review" will look at how to change rugby's macho culture and make it more inclusive.

"In the same way that rugby seeks to do better on the field, we must constantly seek ways to improve off the field," NZR chief executive Steve Tew said.

The sporting body acted amid growing public disquiet over the off-field antics of rugby players and NZR's handling of the incidents.

Pundits have labelled it the "season from hell" for the NZR, tarnishing the image of a sport which is viewed with almost religious fervour in New Zealand.

Recent incidents include a stripper who alleged she was groped and demeaned during a Waikato Chiefs' player function.

An internal NZR review cast doubt on her story and cleared the players but women's groups said the investigation smacked of victim blaming.

Then it emerged a teenage rugby star escaped conviction after viciously assaulting four people, including two women, in an unprovoked attack on a Wellington street.

NZR initially stood by the player before making a clumsy U-turn and agreeing to terminate his contract amid a massive public backlash.

Just as the furore was dying down, the All Blacks were forced to discipline half-back Aaron Smith over a tryst with a mystery woman in a disabled toilet cubicle at busy Christchurch Airport.

The nine-person review panel will be chaired by NZ Law Society president Kathryn Beck and also includes former World Anti-Doping Agency chief David Howman.

Athletes on the panel include former All Blacks Keven Mealamu and Michael Jones, along with two-time Olympic kayak champion Lisa Carrington.

It is expected to report back to NZR by April next year.