Hopley points finger at tour management
PA Sport
July 11, 2008

Players' chief Damian Hopley today insisted England's management must shoulder greater responsibility for events on the disastrous tour to New Zealand.

But Hopley is convinced the presence of Martin Johnson, who officially began his reign as England manager last week, will prevent any future indiscretions.

The Rugby Football Union's investigation of events in Auckland on June 14 found no evidence to support sex allegations which were denied by the players.

But Mike Brown and Topsy Ojo were fined and reprimanded for staying out all night, with the former also carpeted for arriving late for a physiotherapist appointment.

Jeff Blackett, the RFU's chief disciplinary officer who led the investigation, absolved the management of blame for the incident and branded media criticism to the contrary as unfair.

But Hopley was unsatisfied with the way the players were forced to bare the brunt of the subsequent fallout.

''The players have received a strong warning from Judge Blackett, but the management of the tour must accept responsibility too,'' he said.

''There was a huge fuss about players drinking after the game but let's be very clear on this - there was no code of conduct implemented for the tour. There were no rules in place.

''For all the headlines swirling around about the players and their punishment, you can't isolate them from the management.

''I have no doubt the correct procedures will be put in place under Martin Johnson. His personality means he'll make quite an impact on the England team.''

One of the most pressing issues facing Johnson is to draw up a new code of conduct - a process that will involve Hopley.

Blackett recommended in his 7,000-word report that limits be placed on alcohol consumption and urged a ban on taking women back to the team hotel.

Both topics will be up for discussion when the new rules are thrashed out and Hopley admitted England players have a duty to conduct themselves in a certain manner.

''We desperately need a new code of conduct because the original one was Victorian in its outlook,'' he said.

''It's not about being told what to do, it's about adopting a new culture. It's similar to what Sir Clive Woodward had in place when he was England head coach.

''High-profile sportsmen playing for their country have an obligation to behave in a certain way.''

Hopley claimed coverage of the allegations had damaged the relationship between players and the rugby media but conceded it was a reflection of the sport's growing popularity.

''In a way we're victims of our own success because you only have to look at where world rugby has gone since 2003 to see how big the profile is. Players are now fair game,'' he said.

The former England winger was pleased with Blackett's findings, which he hopes has permanently silenced speculation.

''It's a great relief that we can move on from what has been a very difficult time for these young players,'' he said.

''The players have been stranded in no man's land because there was no formal complaint.

''The allegations were unsubstantiated and because of legal advice the players were unable to come out and clear their names.

''This has to be the end of the ordeal for them - there can be no hangover from this.

''Even though the players have done nothing wrong, we have all learnt valuable lessons.

''It's about how we adapt to those lessons that matters to the evolution of our sport.''

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