Crusaders players have been caught up in a social media whirlwind after photographs of them on a "trophy hunt" while on tour in South Africa this year went viral.
The Landmark Foundation in South Africa posted on its Facebook page images featuring one or more of Tom Taylor, George and Sam Whitelock, Ben Funnell and Tyler Bleyendaal posing beside a dead animal. The foundation posted the images as part of its campaign against "canned" or "joyride" hunting, in which animals are kept in a confined area such as a fenced-in area to increase the likelihood of the hunter obtaining a kill.
Foundation director Dr Bool Smuts said the animals in the photographs - a zebra, a blesbok, a gemsbok and an eland - were not endangered and he expected the hunt had been organised legally, but the foundation was "against the whole concept of trophy hunting" as it considered the practice to be "a mechanism for stripping biological assets".
Sam Whitelock told TV3 on Friday that he didn't eat the zebra, but others on the trip did.
"On the farm that we were on, the workers ate all the meat," Whitelock said. "[We] made sure we didn't shoot something for fun because that's not what we are about and it's something I feel very strongly about."
Whitelock said that he and his brothers grew up hunting on a family farm.
He said when asked if the shoot in South Africa was a bad look that it was best to "be careful what you do in your private time".
Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach acknowledged that players went on a hunting trip in April, when the team was in South Africa. The players had been "performing a perfectly legal activity in their own time", Riach told Fairfax Media in New Zealand.
"I guess the point is that there are things that all sorts of people do that other people don't see in the same way ... our guys are perfectly able to hunt in their own time and someone is perfectly able to express concern about that," Riach said, noting that, just as some people might have a different view of hunting "vegetarians might be concerned they had bacon and eggs for breakfast, or a teetotaler might be concerned they have a drink from time to time".
The Landmark Foundation posted the pictures on its Facebook page on Tuesday, since when the page had been visited 25,000 times.
"It seems like it's going viral," Dr Smuts said. "It's serving its purpose. It's asking the question: Is it appropriate that rugby teams scrum down over a dead zebra? Is that respectful of that animal? Did you hunt to eat that animal?"
Trophy hunting was in the global headlines recently when Axelle Despiegelaere lost a modelling contract with L'Oreal after hunting photos of the Belgian soccer fan sparked social media outcry.
The French cosmetics company contracted Despiegelaere, 17, after picture-perfect photos of her cheering Belgium against Russia at the World Cup in Brazil, and a YouTube video showing her getting a "hair tutorial" as part of a L'Oreal media campaign received two millions views.
L'Oreal and Despiegelaere parted ways after a Facebook photo of her with a dead gemsbok in South Africa caused a storm on social media.
Despiegelaere posted on Facebook before taking her page down: "I didn't mean to offend anyone… It was a joke. Thanks for understanding."
L'Oreal released a statement saying the company had collaborated with Despiegelaere "on an ad hoc basis to produce a video for social media use in Belgium".