Luyt leaves bitter taste

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The Independent Online
The South African Rugby Football Union yesterday mounted a frantic damage-limitation exercise after triumphalist remarks by its all-powerful president, Louis Luyt, had caused the All Blacks to walk out of the official banquet after the World Cup final, writes Steve Bale from Johannesburg.

Luyt also caused consternation and embarrassment among the tournament's referees and refereeing assessors when he directly snubbed Ed Morrison, the Englishman who had handled the final, by pronouncing Derek Bevan of Wales "the most wonderful ref in the world" and presenting him with a watch.

Where the Springbok team had been duly modest in victory, South Africa's 15-12 win after extra time at Ellis Park prompted Luyt to tell guests: "We boasted in 1987 that the early World Cup was not won by New Zealand because we weren't there. The same happened in '91. In '95 we proved that if we had been there we would have won."

"It's a disgrace," Sean Fitzpatrick, the New Zealand captain, said. And yesterday Morne du Plessis, the South African manager, dismissed Luyt's crass comments, saying: "Tired and emotional are the words that come to mind. We as a team and management know how fragile glory or claims of glory are.

"We weren't there in '87, we weren't there in '91, and I have my doubts that we would have been able to do anything anyway in '87 and '91 if we had been there. We are happy for our moment of glory and we realise it is a fleeting moment."

Edward Griffiths, the union's chief executive, added: "I don't think one or two misplaced remarks should be construed as representing the broad consensus of Sarfu. What was consistently said by the captain, manager and coach was to be humble in victory. It was a minor incident which should not be blown out of proportion."

As for Bevan, he said yesterday: "I was bit surprised and embarrassed but I didn't want to cause a stir. I'm very worried that this could be misconstrued. If that's the case, it could leave a very bitter taste." Morrison said: "It doesn't bother me, but if he wants to have an argument with me he should do it to my face."

n Nelson Mandela yesterday put his support behind the Springbok as the South African sports emblem which he says South Africans can now associate with winners. The emblem, which many black South Africans associate with apartheid, was supposed to have been used for the final time for the World Cup final, and the National Sports Council had said that all South African sports teams should adopt the Protea, South Africa's national flower.

n Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media magnate, said yesterday that rugby union teams from northern hemisphere countries would have to play better if they wanted his company to offer them lucrative contracts. Murdoch's News Corporation has just announced a 10-year TV deal worth $550m (pounds 370m) with the unions of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.