Australia coach Ewen McKenzie denied having an affair with a staff member as a row over allegedly offensive texts sent by Kurtley Beale took an unexpected twist.
A stony-faced McKenzie rejected rumours about his relationship with business manager Di Patston, who is on stress leave following a mid-flight argument with Beale during last week’s trip to Argentina.
Beale was suspended from the Argentina game over the argument, and was later barred from selection indefinitely after the emergence of “deeply offensive text messages” concerning a member of staff.
“I’ve got a professional relationship with her. And I refute that,” McKenzie told reporters, when asked if he had an “intimate” relationship with Patston.
“There are people out there and that there’s some sort of campaign to impugn, that’s (not) the situation,” said McKenzie, who is married with children.
“I’ve got a professional relationship with her and I refute that.”
Beale is under investigation by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) over both the argument and the text messages, and is expected to face a hearing early next week.
Australian media reports said the situation had become divisive in the Wallabies camp, which is also reeling from last week’s 21-17 defeat – Argentina’s first win in the Rugby Championship.
But McKenzie said: “I don’t think I have a divided camp. I know there’s been lots of talk in the newspapers and everyone’s got an opinion, but I know the playing group.”
He defended Patston’s appointment, which was made during his tenure, and said he didn’t believe it had caused “angst” in the team.
“She came in as the business manager and she came in with a specific role to take the team to a new level,” he told a press conference in Sydney.
“She’s got extraordinary skills and she had made a massive difference to the business side of it and that’s what she’s done.”
McKenzie was also frustrated that the Wallabies were being sidetracked ahead of their final Bledisloe Cup Test with New Zealand in Brisbane next week.
“I am annoyed because in the end we are trying to run a football programme and it’s got sidetracked and it’s been sidetracked in many different ways,” he said.
“It’s frustrating but there is a challenge to try and put that back on track.
“I can’t stop people speculating. It’s me this week, it will be someone else next week, that’s the way it is. I accept that it’s the life in the public domain but you just get on with it.”
Beale has been suspended indefinitely while the ARU investigation plays out.
The 47-Test back was last year forced to undergo counselling and rehabilitation for his struggles with alcohol.
McKenzie said he only found out about the text messages, which reportedly contain lewd pictures and date back to June, last week.
The excitement is building for rugby sevens fans as the HSBC Sevens World Series kicks off this weekend in Australia’s Gold Coast. And just a matter of weeks later the Series comes to Dubai for one of the most popular events on the Dubai annual sporting and social calendar.
The Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens on December 4-6 is a three day extravaganza featuring a triple threat of rugby, the HSBC Sevens World Series, the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series and the huge invitation tournament which has over 220 teams competing.
There is even more at stake this year with the top four finishers in both the men’s and women’s World Series’ earning a berth at the Olympic Games in Brazil in 2016, when rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut.
With the season now underway early favourites are emerging, with the Oceania Sevens seeing some of the top rugby nations go head to head. Fiji started the year in fine form, winning the Oceania competition convincingly by defeating New Zealand All Blacks Sevens 21-5 in the final.
Fiji finished third in the World Series standings last season, winning in Dubai and Japan. They have flourished under the guidance of coach Ben Ryan, who took over the reigns after a six year stint as England’s Sevens coach.
Despite having lost some of their key players including 2013 IRB Sevens Player of the Year Samisoni Viriviri to more lucrative overseas offers since last season, Ryan has managed to pull together a strong squad which he believes will be a real threat for the overall title this year.
To stem the flow of players offshore to the wealthier rugby nations, Ryan recently introduced professional player contracts with performance incentives and bonus payments and has also managed to attract some converts from the fifteens and rugby league to the game, including talented former league star Eminoni Nasilasila.
"Hopefully we can hit those 150 series points as quickly as we can to be guaranteed that we are on the plane to Rio," Ryan said.
"I'm not going to fall to bits if we don't win the Gold Coast 7s but I still want to see progress and that means having some good victories and playing well."
As the first stop on the Olympics qualifying campaign, there is a lot riding on the Gold Coast Sevens for all teams, and with the announcement of the pool rounds some enthralling matches are on the cards as teams battle for the first points of the Series.
Fiji have drawn Australia in their pool, along with Scotland and Portugal. Australia, under the new leadership of Geraint John, arguably represent the biggest group stage threat to Fiji, and are expected to throw everything at the World Series.
In a strong Pool A along with New Zealand are this year’s Asian Games champions, Japan, who also won the qualification tournament last month to take a core team place in the series after Spain was dropped last year. Samoa, victors in Dubai in 2012, and an in-form France complete the group.
The danger team in Pool B will be the reigning Commonwealth Games champions South Africa. Also in Pool B are Wales, Kenya and American Samoa.
Pool D features England, Canada, the USA and Argentina.
Tickets for the Dubai tournament will go on sale on 15 October with massive crowds once again expected to attend one of the region’s favourite sporting and social occasions of the year.
For all the information about the event and tickets go to dubairugby7s.com
A 55-metre Patrick Lambie penalty gave South Africa a thrilling 27-25 victory over New Zealand Saturday in the Rugby Championship, condemning the world champions to a first defeat in almost two years.
The All Blacks had turned an eight-point half-time deficit into a one-point lead before Liam Messam fouled Schalk Burger and Lambie became an instant star with his monster kick.
Victory before a sell-out 62,000 Ellis Park crowd ended a run of five consecutive losses by the Springboks against the All Blacks, who surrendered a world record 22-match unbeaten run.
It was not the result New Zealand skipper and flanker Richie McCaw would have wished for as he made a record 134th appearance for his country.
Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard had the first chance to score six minutes into the opening half only to pull his penalty left of the post after New Zealand were punished for not rolling away from a ruck. A couple of minutes later and the All Blacks nudged ahead as fly-half Beauden Barrett effortlessly guided a 44-metre penalty between the posts.
However, the lead proved short-lived as South Africa ran from inside their 22 and centre Jan Serfontein gave the scoring pass for scrum-half Francois Hougaard to dive over under the crossbar.
Pollard converted and the Springboks had a four-point advantage while spending most of the early minutes inside the All Blacks' half. Barrett trimmed the deficit to a single point with his second penalty only for the home side to respond with a second try.
Left-wing Bryan Habana broke clear, easily evaded full-back Israel Dagg, and several passes later Pollard darted over between the posts for a try he converted. But the world champions hit back with a try from the most unlikely of situations as they gained possession from a retreating scrum.
Left-wing Julian Savea demonstrated his pace and power to carry the ball deep into Springboks territory and quick, slick passing sent centre Malakai Fekitoa over. Barrett converted to again leave just one point between the teams in a riveting showdown staged in perfect South African spring conditions.
A one-point lead was stretched to eight on the stroke of half-time when Pollard claimed his second try, swivelling when tackled by McCaw to dot down. Pollard converted and South Africa ran off the pitch at half-time 21-13 ahead as they sought a rare recent win over their greatest rivals.
South Africa began the second half intent on scoring another try and skipper Jean de Villiers thought he had won a race to the touchdown with fellow centre Conrad Smith over the New Zealand try-line.
However, big-screen replays clearly showed Smith getting his hand to the ball first. There was a measure of compensation for the Springboks soon after, though, as Pollard goaled an easy penalty kick.
The television match official was in action again just before the hour when New Zealand were convinced they had scored a pushover try after South Africa lost possession having won a line-out. But video replays showed Springboks flanker Marcell Coetzee getting a hand to the ball before an opponent also touched it and the All Blacks had to settle for a scrum they failed to gain from.
The momentum was with the All Blacks and they finally scored again on 64 minutes when a Barrett skip pass set up Conrad Smith to send right-wing Ben Smith over and Barrett converted.
Replacement hooker Dane Coles went over in the other corner four minutes later and although Barrett missed the conversion, the All Blacks had turned an 11-point deficit into a 25-24 lead.
Then came the Lambie penalty and three years of torment for Springboks supporters was over.