6 Jul 2016

Booze culture changing at Northland rugby clubs

8:38 am on 6 July 2016

Northland rugby clubs insist the culture of drinking at the clubrooms has changed - despite the deaths in 2014 of two young men who'd been drinking and smoking cannabis before they got in a car.

A teenager drinking beer.

Kaeo Rugby Club president Allan Martin says attitudes to drinking had been changing even before the crash. Photo: 123RF

The jerseys once worn by Vernon Lawrence-Samuels and Ryan Wikaira hang on the wall at the Kaeo rugby clubrooms.

Their former senior team manager and now club president, Allan Martin, says both men showed great potential and teammates were stunned when they died.

"Rocked them back a bit for over year I suppose, losing their best mates. I think some of them have got over it and some haven't, you know, but they've always got memories of those two boys."

Mr Lawrence-Samuels was driving the Honda Accord that spun out of control south of Kaeo, hitting an oncoming ute.

Coroner Brandt Shortland said the two 23 year olds had been at training at the club and went to the clubrooms afterwards, where they drank beer and shared a marijuana joint with others over two hours.

He called their deaths "tragic and unnecessary" and while speed and an uneven road surface were possible factors, excessive blood alcohol could not be ignored.

Former All Black Norm Hewitt became a campaigner for sensible drinking after beating his own alcohol problems. He said while he'd heard club drinking culture was not as strong as it used to be, it was still a problem.

"There are still parts of New Zealand where the good old days of court sessions, of having beers after training, is still there. And it's not going to change in a hurry but hopefully for this club, this Kaeo club where there's a small community, great community, strong community, will take some reflection and some thought on what they do moving forward.

Mr Hewitt said it was a broader issue than just rugby.

"Two men lose their lives, rugby was part of that, community was part of that, society was part of that, and it's a tragedy."

Mr Hewitt said the country's drinking culture needed to change.

Mr Martin said bar policies had changed at the Kaeo club over the years and alcohol was served only at special functions, or on game day Saturday.

He said attitudes to drinking had been changing even before the crash, especially since law changes around drink driving.

"As the drink driving started to take over I think that had a lot to do with it. Everybody seems to go home earlier now, that's probably one of the main factors now, whereas they used to hang around until a bit later but now the clubrooms are pretty well clean by quarter past seven or something at night now."

Further south, a life member of the Whangarei and District Rugby sub union, Trevor Kelly, agreed drinking at club rugby wasn't what it used to be.

"The drinking culture of clubs in general and the young ones has changed a heck of a lot over the last 15 years. Once upon a time the rugby club used to be a fairly social place where people would enjoy themselves well into the evenings on a Saturday after games, but that's pretty much changed these days.

Mr Kelly said at the ten or so clubs he went to it was common to see people agreeing to be a sober driver early on.

Northland Rugby Union operations manager and referee Kyal Collins said clubrooms were getting into serving food when bars were open and people's attitudes towards drink driving had caught up.

"There's always drinks available after the game but I don't see or don't hear of the big nights nowadays that there used to be. So I think people are more aware that you just can't drink drive nowadays and if you do you will get caught so there's just not that need or want to stay at the club at drink to excess.