Blues

Blues may have the blues over Williams

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The Blues may face a law suit over their decision to publicly name and shame All Black lock Ali Williams for his much publicised disruptive influences on their recent trip to South Africa and Australia.

Williams, who has played 40 Tests for the All Blacks, was sent home after the Blues landed in South Africa to start preparations for their Super 14 semi-final showdown with the Sharks – a game the Sharks won 34-18 in Durban at the weekend.

Now, it appears, the Blues have opened themselves to a potentially costly legal case.

A source close to the Williams camp told the New Zealand newspaper Sunday Star-Times that Williams had cause to take out “the biggest personal grievance case in New Zealand sporting history” after being effectively suspended by a Blues management team that failed to follow the rules laid out in the players’ collective agreement.

After a week of public humiliation for the All Blacks lock, the pressure is now on the Blues’ management for their handling of the saga, with the threat of legal action hanging over their heads if Williams’ career as a professional player, including his All Blacks status, is considered to have been damaged.

One well-placed source raised the spectre of legal action against the Blues if Williams were to suffer repercussions such as missing All Blacks selection.

While Williams was sent home for breaching team protocol, the Star-Times revealed that there was no formal misconduct hearing.

And the time frame for such charges to be laid has expired, which is a concession his crimes were not as serious as first presented.

A diplomatic Williams admitted he had broken team protocol after a series of drinking binges, the most recent in Perth. He also admitted to showing disrespect to team-mates, which the Star-Times claimed amounted to swearing at several players and management.

Behind his outbursts is the fact Williams has struggled to get game time since finishing the All Blacks reconditioning period, leading to strained relationship with coach David Nucifora.

While Williams admitted he has some “rough edges”, sources close to Williams say he is livid with his treatment, given some team-mates had committed similar protocol breaches but avoided punishment.

Sources within the team were tight-lipped about who was drinking with Williams on his various nights out.

Blues chairman Greg Muir was forced into damage control at the weekend.

“I don’t think we have an employment dispute on our hands,” he told the newspaper. “I don’t think it will come to that.”

But events over the weekend suggest otherwise.

The drama kicked off when Williams’ team-mates recommended he be dropped from the playing 22. Management then took the extraordinary step of sending him home for “disciplinary reasons”.

At this stage a misconduct inquiry should have been launched.

The rules governing this confidential process are clearly spelled out in the players’ collective employment agreement. Section 64 states an inquiry into “serious” or “ordinary” misconduct must take place within “48 hours and in a manner consistent with natural justice”.

But this didn’t happen and the Blues were left scrambling late in the week to try to justify their decision.

Last Friday, Blues manager Ant Strachan, a former All Black scrum-half, sent a letter of “clarification” to media.

In an apparent attempt to back track, he said Williams had been excluded from the playing 22 by his peers and was returning home only because, under SANZAR rules, there was not enough room for him and his replacement in the tour party.

The question now being asked is why the Blues went public over an offence not considered worthy of an inquiry.

“If Williams’ actions were not serious enough to warrant any sort of official charge then why did they go public?” a source asked. “It’s explicitly against the rules in the collective.”

Muir, when contacted by the Sunday Star-Times said they went public to “avoid a media circus”.

He also defended the actions of the Blues management team.

“I think our intentions were honourable – we were trying to be transparent.

“But I can’t really comment publicly on whether the punishment fitted the crime. And I think it was the right decision to go public.”

Players’ association chief executive Rob Nichol was another surprised by the Blues decision to go public before consulting Williams. But he said it was now time to move on.

“Ali just wants to learn from this and try to become a better person,” he told the newspaper. “He’s admitted some fault on his part and I think he’s conducted himself with dignity, which bodes well for the rest of the season.”

 

365 Digital

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