Rugby: Knives out for New Zealand Rugby boss over scandals

Wellington (AFP) - New Zealand Rugby (NZR) boss Steve Tew faced calls to resign on Wednesday over off-field scandals that have damaged the sport's reputation in the rugby-mad home of the All Blacks.

Pundits turned on Tew after an embarrassing U-turn over a teenage star who escaped conviction for viciously assaulting four people including two women.

After initially backing Losi Filipo, rugby chiefs eventually backed down and terminated his contract on Tuesday following a wave of public outrage.

It came just weeks after NZR faced criticism from women's groups over its handling of sexual assault allegations made by a stripper against Waikato Chiefs players.

"Rugby's image is in the gutter, and Steve Tew (has) proved hopelessly incapable of lifting it out," New Zealand Herald columnist Chris Rattue wrote.

He said NZR, for all its on-field success with the World Cup-winning All Blacks, needed an administrative shake-up starting with Tew's departure.

"The Filipo and Chiefs strippergate cases have exposed a heartless attitude towards those who are victims of player misbehaviour and/or violence," Rattue wrote. "Rugby players always get off."

RadioLive commentator Duncan Garner agreed, saying Tew's reaction to the scandals appeared defensive and "locked in a time-warp from the 1960s".

"His continued defence of the indefensible should see him red-carded from rugby union headquarters," he wrote. "NZR keeps saying they will not tolerate poor behaviour by players, but those are weasel words - their actions back none of this up."

Filipo, 18, launched an unprovoked attack on four people in central Wellington last year, stamping on the head of one victim, who was unable to work for eight months.

He dodged conviction because a judge said he did not want to derail his career, with the NZR initially saying the matter had been dealt with sufficiently by the courts.

Tew accepted mistakes were made by NZR and said officials had failed to look into the seriousness of the allegations against Filipo.

He similarly conceded "we could do better" earlier this month, when NZR was accused of brushing aside a stripper's allegations she was abused at a Chiefs end-of-season party.

"Clearly this is not a good time for us, but I'd ask everyone to remember there's a lot of good stuff going on in our sport," Tew told TVNZ on Wednesday.

He told Radio NZ that 150,000 young people played rugby every weekend across New Zealand and it was inevitable some would get into trouble.

"We've just got to accept that we will have young men who will make mistakes, we've got to provide them with the support and the education to... do better," he said.

Matthew Hooton, a columnist for the respected National Business Review, said Tew should not minimise Filipo's offence.

"Losi Filipo didn't 'make a mistake' Steve Tew," he tweeted. "He viciously assaulted four people."