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International: Lying Bastareaud - More questions than answers after confession

By Colin Spiro, 27 June 2009

Mathieu Bastareaud
Disastrous decisions:
Mathieu Bastareaud
Photo: Michael Paler

It is difficult to know where to start with the ongoing Mathieu Bastareaud saga, as the 20-year-old’s web of lies continues to unfold with embarrassing and damaging consequences.

The ‘impetuosity of youth’ excuse doesn’t go anywhere near explaining why such a devastating chain of lies has been perpetuated, with real hurt caused to the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Kiwi nation generally.

Am I overstating the seriousness of this? That’s for others to judge, but there is no doubt that the 20-year-old Stade Francais player has done an almighty disservice to himself, his team and to Franco-New Zealand relations generally.

His forced apology for lying about being mugged outside the team hotel in Wellington was only aired once he was pushed into an uncomfortable corner by New Zealand’s police, who had thoroughly investigated the claims amid much head shaking from Kiwis worried that the incident could damage their worldwide reputation for hospitality.

The looming 2011 World Cup formed a poignant backdrop to Bastareaud’s lies, with All Blacks coach Graham Henry and even Prime Minister John Key both getting in on the act to decry the actions of the French players’ supposed attackers.

Eyebrows were inevitably raised by Bastareaud’s initial claims as your average muggers (if there are such things) don’t tend to take on 18 stone rugby players, even if (as he claimed) he was attacked by four or five men from behind. The fact the supposed incident didn’t get reported by the French management for 24 hours provoked further questions, as did Bastareaud’s hurried departure on a plane back to Paris.

The player himself then expressed surprise at the level of media interest upon his return to France, and the national team confirmed that no official complaint would be made. Stranger and stranger.

When Bastareaud was then confronted with irrefutable evidence – via CCTV cameras – that he entered the team hotel uninjured, and in the company of two teammates and two females, he came clean. But as Insp Peter Cowan confirmed, it was only after he had been invited to “reconsider” his version of events that Bastareaud confessed to telling porkies.

The French rugby team, and its management, would no doubt hope that was the end of the sorry tale, but sadly for them it is likely to be only the end of the beginning of this public relations disaster.

So many questions remain unanswered that the Federation Francaise de Rugby (FFR) owes it to the public of both New Zealand and France to conduct a thorough investigation and find out what really did happen.

All we know for definite so far is that Bastareaud returned to the team hotel at 5.22am and that he was uninjured at the time. We also know that he was accompanied by two un-named females and two teammates – now known to be Louis Picamoles and Fulgence Ouedraogo.

According to Bastareaud’s latest version of events he subsequently slipped and cracked his cheekbone on a table in his hotel room due to being drunk. If that is the truth then why on earth did he make up a story about being mugged? And what happened in the crucial 25 minutes between Bastareaud entering the hotel and then going to his room? Indeed, Insp Cowan, who led the investigation, admitted, “what happened in that 25 minutes is obviously 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.”

Is he really so naïve, or stupid, to think that a country like New Zealand would let that lie when an international rugby star claimed to have been mugged outside his hotel? Did he really think that no-one would bother investigating? Did he not stop to think that CCTV footage would devastatingly disprove his allegations?

And what of the two players that entered the hotel with him at 5.22 am. Surely Picamoles and Ouedraogo also knew that Bastareaud had not been mugged as claimed. Did they not owe it to the team management to come forward and tell all? Indeed, perhaps the most pertinent question now is did the team management have any knowledge of Bastareaud’s second version of events?

It is understandable that a young player on his first major tour with the national team would be embarrassed about injuring himself so severely due to drink. It doesn’t look good and would undoubtedly have harmed his previous high standing. Fine. But, if you’re going to lie about how you sustained your injuries then why not say you slipped in the shower or something similar. Sure, the team management might have had their suspicions but it wouldn’t have instigated a massive police investigation that could only ever have come up with one conclusion.

But surely a streetwise coach such as Marc Lièvremont could not countenance perpetuating such a brazen lie. So, we really are no nearer understanding how this sorry episode truly came about.

All we do know is that one player has done huge damage for international relations between France and New Zealand. Can you imagine the current rage being felt in New Zealand by Bastareaud’s false allegations?

Reaction to the Bastareaud affair:

Mathieu Bastareaud, Version I: “They just came quickly upon me and hit me. I didn’t have time to realise what happened. I didn’t even know if there were four or five of them.”

Mathieu Bastareaud, Version II: “On Saturday evening, I returned to the hotel after having drunk too much. I fell in my bedroom and scarred my cheekbone on the table… I was ashamed and panicked and I thought I would be sent packing by the team management. I recounted the original story because I thought it would be believed, but given the coverage it has subsequently received I thought it would be better to tell the truth… I did not want my family to be ashamed… I panicked and I dug myself deeper into a hole. I would like to apologise to the New Zealand Federation, to the city of Wellington, to the French players, the coaching staff, my team, my friends and all of those who were part of the story.”

Inspector Peter Cowan, New Zealand Police: “We outlined clearly our findings which showed Mr Bastareaud’s allegations were a pure fabrication and suggested that Mr Bastareaud reconsider his position… Mr Bastareaud hasn’t come out overnight and apologised out of the goodness of his heart. This has been a strategy from us and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union have been strong supporters and assisted us in this… 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... I’m sort of in a position where I’m not going to waste any more time thinking about Mr Bastareaud. He has wasted an enormous amount of resources this week and I think from my perspective the matter is now closed.”

John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand (of the original claims): “From time to time you will get isolated incidents that reflect badly on either the public or on New Zealand… I’d hate to think this would in any way tarnish our reputation.”

Marc Lièvremont, French head coach: “We were shocked by the first version. We defended him, encouraged him, protected him. As for his second version that he has confided to us, we are in shock for the second time. I had Mathieu on the telephone. I can’t explain to myself the reasons for his lie… We will try to understand and support him. I hope his family, his club and the federation will know how to handle it. He is a young guy… who, as indicated by his second version, has lost his way.”

Federation Francaise de Rugby: “The French Rugby Federation is shocked that a player for the French XV had lied. The nation of New Zealand, the world of rugby can legitimately feel wounded by the initial statements of the player which also harms the image of French rugby. Pierre Camou, president of the FFR, in the name of French rugby, wishes to present his excuses to the people of New Zealand and the New Zealand Rugby Federation. He has asked the disciplinary committee to investigate. To be an international, is to be responsible, exemplary in the way you represent your country and the Federation.”

 

Kerry Prendergast, Wellington Mayor: “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)… I’m outraged – I’m sure all New Zealanders are… I have to say that passing it off as an inexperienced young player isn’t good enough… There was clearly collusion. There were other players involved, the team doctor was involved, the coach {was involved] because he [Bastareaud] got sent back so quickly. This is wider than just one player and I think we need an apology… My understanding is that other players knew about it so we can’t just say that this is one player. Clearly the doctor who did the stitching and the fact that he was sent back… other people knew”

Steve Tew, Chief executive NZRU: “Like all New Zealanders, I am extremely disappointed with this series of events and will be expressing that concern to the French Rugby Federation… We share the concerns of Wellington City Mayor Kerry Prendergast and Wellington Area Police at the distress, negative publicity and the unnecessary concern this has caused for many people and will be talking further about this with the FFR.”

Jo Maso, French team manager: “We defended our player but unfortunately he lied to everybody… We are shattered by what has happened.”

Graham Henry, All Blacks coach: “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 decision. I feel for the French people, the French rugby people.”

Bernard Lapasset, IRB president: “It is extremely regrettable. It was inexcusable behaviour which pained me a lot… It has shaken the image of French rugby in New Zealand and around the world… What is certain is that despite his young age Mathieu should be aware of what it means to be an international and have the courage to assume its responsibilities. We have already seen too many incidents with this generation.”

Sergio Parisse, Stade Francais teammate and captain of Italy: “I’ve spoken with him and given him my support. When you are young you can sometimes make mistakes. I think people around him must be supportive and not try to kill him. He’s young and he’s made a mistake but he is a great guy.”

Max Guazzini, Owner of Stade Francais: “It was simply jolly japes by a youngster. He had too much to drink, came back to his hotel and fell over the table in his room. He has now gone on holiday to the French West Indies.”

 

 

 
 
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