WELLINGTON, June 26 – New Zealand officials reacted with outrage and called for an inquiry after French rugby player Mathieu Bastareaud admitted his claim of being attacked by thugs in Wellington was a lie.
The 20-year-old said Thursday in a statement on the website of his French club Stade Francais that a cut and bruising on his face was caused by a fall in his room after drinking with team-mates early on Sunday.
Originally Bastareaud claimed he had been set upon by up to five people as he was returning to the team hotel, hours after France had lost a Test against the All Blacks.
Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast said she was outraged over the damage done to the city’s reputation and the New Zealand Rugby Union called on the French Rugby Federation to investigate the incident.
Bastareaud, who left the team on Monday and returned to France, apologised and said he had panicked and "dug himself deeper into a hole" after the incident.
"I was ashamed and panicked and I thought I would be sent packing by the team management.
"I did not want my family to be ashamed," he said.
He added he decided to tell the truth because of the big media interest in the story.
But Wellington area police commander Pete Cowan said the player had been forced to retract his story after the results of the police investigation were Thursday given to the French Rugby Federation.
"We outlined our findings, which showed Mr Bastareaud’s allegations were pure fabrication and suggested Mr Bastareaud reconsider his position," Cowan told Radio New Zealand.
"Mr Bastareaud has not come out overnight and apologised out of the goodness of his heart."
The police investigation found the player had entered the team hotel on Sunday morning uninjured and had gone into his room 25 minutes later.
"Now what happened in that 25 minutes is open to a lot of speculation, now I’m not in a position to tell you, all I can tell you is Mr Bastareaud was not assaulted outside the hotel by four or five thugs," said Cowan.
Wellington mayor Prendergast said she was angry about the damage news of the alleged assault had done to the city’s reputation.
"This has always had the potential of damaging our reputation not only nationally but internationally, particularly ahead of hosting the Rugby World Cup (in 2011)," Prendergast said.
"I’m outraged — I’m sure all New Zealanders are," she said.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said the union shared some of the anger felt by the mayor.
Asked about claims other members of the French team must have known Bastareaud was lying, Tew said any further inquiries were a matter for the French Rugby Federation.
"I think it’s now up to the French federation to answer those questions and perhaps even to conduct a bit more of an investigation themselves."
French federation president Pierre Camou, said disciplinary action would be taken against the player.
Team manager Jo Maso also apologised, saying the team had also been lied to.
"We defended our player but unfortunately he lied to everybody," Maso told reporters in Sydney, ahead of the weekend Test against Australia.
"They, like us, were duped… We are shattered by what has happened."
All Black coach Graham Henry took a conciliatory line, saying the young player was guilty of a bad error of judgement.
"He’s just a young guy making bad decisions and in this case he made a very bad decision and those things happen whether you’re a Frenchman or a New Zealander or an Australian from time to time with young people.
"It’s a difficult situation. I feel for the French people, the French rugby people," Henry told reporters.