The Waratahs will remind spectators of their duty to report abuse after a Hurricanes player was targeted with racist slurs at Leichhardt Oval at the weekend.
NSW chief executive Paul Doorn said it was disappointing the ugly incident marred the return of vocal home crowds to the Waratahs this season and vowed to do all the club could to make sure it did not happen again in the side’s final home game against the Blues next week.
With a bigger crowd expected for the side’s final regular-season match up with the competition leaders, security and police will be briefed to be on high alert for disrespectful or abusive behaviour among spectators. Doorn also said the big screen would carry reminders to spectators of how they can report abusive behaviour and the ground announcer will also reinforce the message.
Doorn offered the club’s apologies to Hurricanes boss Avan Lee in the aftermath of the event, which saw the Wellington side’s flanker, Du’Plessis Kirifi, allegedly subjected to taunts about his race during the match.
Given we’ve worked so hard to build support and build a supportive crowd at Leichhardt Oval, it is so disappointing that the actions of one person in a crowd of 11,000 have spoiled the night, not to mention the impact it’s had on the player himself, Doorn told the Herald.
The alleged incident added further insult to the Waratahs’ 22-18 loss, which came after the Darren Coleman-coached side led 15-0 at half time, ending hopes of a home quarter-final. It is also a regrettable and unintended byproduct of the club’s concerted effort to lure back crowds to home games, under the call to fill the hill at the iconic suburban venue.
Kirifi revealed the abuse on social media in an effort to apologise for and explain why he was photographed giving the middle finger to a section of the crowd behind the northern goalposts after the final whistle.
Photos of the flanker’s gesture were widely circulated in the aftermath of the match and were interpreted as Kirifi being ungracious.
I love the arena, I love to compete alongside my teammates and I love when the crowds are hyped and throw chat from the stands – But there’s a line and just because you’re in the crowd doesn’t give you the right to talk about my mother or my race, he said on Instagram.
Abuse from the sideline is part of our job, and it’s a part I personally love – however this doesn’t justify racial slurs or comments about my family.
Doorn has been in touch with his Wellington counterpart daily since Monday, with Lee acknowledging the Waratahs’ efforts to make amends.
The Waratahs said their investigations had failed to turn up the alleged culprit. The ageing venue is not equipped with CCTV and ground staff had not received any reports or complaints.
There is no place for racism in society and this behaviour will not be tolerated. The NSW Waratahs celebrate the multicultural diversity of our team and are proud to embrace the inclusiveness of all cultures and races in rugby, the club added through a spokesman.
It is understood that Kirifi went public with his experience after being asked by employer New Zealand Rugby to explain his actions.
Meanwhile, NSW flanker Michael Hooper returns to the starting line up for the Waratahs, who travel to Dunedin on Friday to face the Highlanders in the penultimate round of the regular season.
Hooper replaces Charlie Gamble, who is being rested this week. Elsewhere, second-rower Jed Holloway also drops out of the 23 to freshen up, with Geoff Cridge starting alongside Hugh Sinclair and returning Wallaby Ned Hanigan coming on to the bench. Loosehead prop Angus Bell drops to the bench after carrying an enormous load this season, with Tetera Faulkner starting alongside Dave Porecki at hooker and Archer Holz at tighthead.
With star centre Izaia Perese injured, versatile back Alex Newsome slots in at No. 13 and Ben Donaldson starts at fullback. Wales international Jamie Roberts was named as backline cover in a forward heavy 6-2 split bench.
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