Springbok turmoil as Smit faces racial abuse claim

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The Independent Online

The alleged incident occurred in the King's Cross area of Sydney, renowned as the city's principal red light area, at the weekend after Smit and his side arrived in Australia for a brief stop-over. Allan Teli, said to be a Samoan, filed a formal complaint to SA Rugby, the body which administers the professional game in South Africa, claiming that an "intoxicated" Smit had abused him after refusing a request to leave the premises.

Mveleli Ncula, the deputy chief executive of the South African Rugby Football Union, confessed to surprise at the complaint. "It's the first I've heard of it," he said. "John is normally a very mild person." Later, SA Rugby issued a statement saying: "Given the seriousness of the allegation, we are conducting the necessary investigations in an attempt to get to the heart of the matter."

Smit, one of the outstanding hookers in world rugby, has spent the last 18 months or so working closely with the Springbok coach, Jake White, in forging a new spirit amongst a squad remarkable as much for its close camaraderie as its multi-racial make-up. Before the last World Cup, the "colour question" hung over the Boks following incidents at their notorious pre-tournament training camp. Since the competition, they have succeeded in presenting a united front and, under Smit's leadership, won the 2004 Tri-Nations. Should New Zealand fail to beat Australia this weekend, the Boks will retain their title.

The authorities in England and Wales confirmed details of a new-look Powergen Cup, the third and last element of this season's professional club programme. All 12 Guinness Premiership sides will feature alongside the four Welsh regions, playing three matches each in four pools before back-to-back semi-finals at the Millennium Stadium in March and a final at Twickenham in April.

Sensibly, the English clubs have been grouped together on a geographical basis - Bath, Bristol and Gloucester are manacled to each other, as are Wasps, Saracens and London Irish - as a means of cutting down on unnecessary travelling, although the likes of Newcastle will still have to find their way to western Wales to play against Llanelli Scarlets on a Sunday afternoon in October. Quite whether the Jonny Wilkinsons and Owen Finegans of this world are forced to make a trip that might have had Marco Polo thinking twice is a matter for debate.

At least the BBC has agreed to screen the tournament, a development that guarantees terrestrial television viewers some action before the Six Nations Championship. The corporation has agreed a four-year deal, although there will be ructions if, as is widely supposed, teams choose to rest leading players in the opening two rounds in order to keep some powder dry for the Heineken Cup, which kicks off a fortnight after the first tranche of Powergen fixtures.

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