Rugby: NZ Rugby distressed by mental health allegations from Black Ferns Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate

NZ Rugby is "not immune" to mental health issues, despite measures put in place for all its employees, insists professional rugby head Chris Lendrum.

Veteran Black Ferns hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate has revealed she suffered a "mental breakdown" on the recent northern tour, where New Zealand lost all four tests by record margins against France and England.

With 20 tests caps over eight years, Ngata-Aerengamate alleges she has been subjected to comments that have contributed to her ailing mental health and describes the tour as her breaking point.

Lendrum says Ngata-Aerengamate's comments and allegations on social media are "very distressing" and despite support networks in place, positive outcomes aren't always guaranteed.

"There is a huge amount of support - professional support - inside the Black Ferns environment for all of our people - players and management," Lendrum says.

"We [NZR] are a big environment and we are not immune to mental health challenges, and sometimes they come in the workplace and sometimes they can be triggered by other things. 

"It's really distressing, and our first thoughts are with Te Kura and our priority is to make sure she is okay."

Head coach Glenn Moore wasn't acknowledged by name in the social media post, but Lendrum confirms he has spoken to the 62-year-old, who has headed the programme since 2015.

Lendrum says Moore is "distressed and upset" by Ngata-Aerengamate's struggle, and NZR must offer support for all parties.

"I think it's important for me to acknowledge that we have duties to everybody involved in this case.

"Glenn is a long-serving employee of NZ Rugby and Te Kura is a long-serving Black Fern, and the two have worked together for a long period of time.

"We have work ahead of us to explore this issue as part of the review and Glenn will be part of that.

"We have to get our processes right in order to get to the bottom of this situation."

Ngata-Aerengamate’s allegations include being told she was only in the team because she could play guitar and that her coach was "embarrassed" by her performances.

Lendrum admits the allegations are "thought-provoking" and go against the culture of NZ Rugby.

"Respect, inclusion, care and connection are principles that are right at the heart of NZ Rugby, and how we expect our teams to behave and operate. Those expectations are very clear to all players and staff alike.

"On the face of it, yes, some very serious allegations.

"I accept that what she said in her post is of a very serious matter, but we have duties to both Te Kura and Glenn, and it's important we go through a proper, private process in the first instance."

Lendrum spent two days with the squad before they departed for the tour in September and sensed a great team culture. NZ Rugby was aware of the stresses of COVID-19 quarantine on either side of the tour and had introduced health measures, should the players need assistance.

Lendrum says NZ Rugby has support available outside team environments, if players feel unsafe to comment, but stresses the importance of waiting for results of a tour review to assess what may have gone wrong with the process.

"A mental skills specialist was on tour and there was a team doctor with the team, as well as a large amount of support here at NZR.

"Some of those people would have been aware and I'm aware there was an issue on the tour, but that is very personal to Te Kura and she is the one who should comment on that. 

"A lot of support for Te Kura is available, but she's detailed the challenges she found on that tour. It's not nice reading for anybody and that will form part of the review."