Rugby Championship News

Lote Tuqiri: It’s a fair cop





Disgraced wallaby winger Lote Tuqiri held his hands up on Tuesday and accedpted full responsibility for his drinking escapade that has cost him his place in the Austalia team for the next two Tests, as well as AU$ 20,000 ($17,130).

Speaking at a press conference, Tuqiri said in mitigation only that he had mis-read the team diary which had him scheduled for a doctor’s appointment as well as team recovery training on Monday.

However, he omitted the fact that he failed a breathalyzer test after a night out on the town – the real reason why has was slapped with the ban and fine.

In a statement issued on Tuesday the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) said Tuqiri, who has played for the Wallabies since 2003, was banned because he was in “breach of team standards”.

Tuqiri’s suspension and a fine follow his failure to attend the team medical appointment and later the recovery session at Coogee on Monday.

Tuqiri was later breath-tested upon request by team management and returned a reading above team limits.

Tuqiri was serving a two-match suspended sentence over his off-field behaviour in Cape Town, South Africa, on 21 July 2005.

“It comes back to me, I take full responsibility,” said Tuqiri.

“I shouldn’t hold someone else’s hand to do things for me, I’ve been playing professional sport for eight or nine years now. I’m obviously not happy about not playing and letting the boys down and letting the family (down) and fans and everyone else.

“There are other issues too – I’ve got time management issues as well.”

Tuqiri went out on Sunday after the Wallabies arrived back in Sydney after their Tri-Nations victory over the All Blacks in Melbourne.

“I was having a few quiet drinks with the boys, that was about it,” he said.

“I got back to the hotel and just didn’t read the diary properly. It was just a bad read by me. The fact was that I missed that session, I just didn’t know it was on.

“I’m sure it’s happened before and it will happen again in the future – but it’s certainly not going to happen to me.

“Missing out on being selected is massive. I just want to be out there and playing footy and missing one Test is too much.”

However, it has been revealed in the Australian media that Tuqiri’s breath-test, at 1.30pm (13.30), returned a reading of 0.05 – which makes him technically still inebriated.

ARU Chief Executive John O’Neill, who could probably have done without this in only his second week in charge, insisted that the fine and suspension was a case of maintaining team standards and integrity.

“Could we have said beating the Springboks this weekend and the All Blacks to win the Bledisloe Cup is more important than upholding team standards?” O’Neill said to Fox Sports.

“No, we can’t, because it’s not. It doesn’t matter what the game is, or who the player involved is, no one is above the law when it comes to off-field responsibility.

“This is about sending a very clear and unambiguous message as to what we expect in terms of the behaviour and culture of the Wallabies. It could be viewed the same as an unforeseen injury.

“You just have to cope. Equally, this should have been avoided.”

Tuqiri, who attracted many critics from within rugby circles when he demanded an AU$6 million contract over five years, has never been far from controversy this year.

The Australian media has still not forgiven him for re-signing for an astronomical figure, but then produce a series of below-par performances Super 14 for the Waratahs.

In 13 games he scored only one try and was involved in an ugly incident when he shove teammate Sam Norton-Knight in the back and gaves him a verbal spray for an on-field mistake. He was forced to issue a public apology.

He was in hot water again in May when he apologised to Wallabies selector Michael O’Connor for broadcasting a personal conversation about Waratahs teammate Peter Hewat on his mobile phone loudspeaker.

He was also sent home in January from a Wallaby training camp for failing a fitness test.

And in July 2005 he was involved that infamous night club fracas in Cape Town with then Wallaby teammates Matt Henjak and Wendell Sailor. Tuqiri was fined AU$500 and given a two-match suspended sentence – which resulted in his latest two-match ban and even bigger fine.

According to The Australian newspaper Tuqiri was not woken by teammates because his roommate at the team hotel in Coogee arrived in Sydney from interstate on Monday morning and the meetings were staggered.

Wallabies coach John Connolly decided to breath-test Tuqiri after a member of the team management reported that the wing looked “shabby”.

Tuqiri was breath-tested in team doctor Martin Raftery’s room at 1.30pm (13.30), returning a reading of 0.05.

The Wallabies disciplinary committee – Connolly, Raftery, inside centre Scott Staniforth and second row forward Dan Vickerman – considered the matter on Monday night, handing down a one-game suspension plus the fine.

However, O’Neill re-asserted his authority by over-ruling disciplinary committee’s finding.

When O’Neill reviewed the decision he invoked the two-year, two-game suspended sentence hanging over Tuqiri for his part in a scuffle in a Cape Town night club on July 21, 2005, which led to scrum-half Matt Henjak being sent home in disgrace.

Tuqiri only had three weeks remaining before the two-game suspended sentenced would have been lifted.
365 Digital

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