Paper claims Bastareaud 'punched by teammate'

By Catherine Field

French rugby international Mathieu Bastareaud was reportedly punched by one of his teammates, according to a Paris newspaper.

The 20-year-old centre initially said he had been beaten up by as many as five thugs in central Wellington hours after the second test against the All Blacks.

But investigations by police showed the claim was bogus.

CCTV footage showed Bastareaud entering the team hotel, the Holiday Inn, without injuries. He went to his room 25 minutes later.

Bastareaud, after his masquerade was exposed, said last week that he had been drunk and fell over and hit his head against a table in his bedroom.

He said he panicked at the idea of being sent home by the team management and at getting into trouble with his family, and so invented the assault story. He said he had no idea the tale would spiral out of control and apologised deeply to all concerned.

But the French press are now airing another scenario.

How he sustained a cut cheek and facial bruising is the big question.

Two fellow players - named as Louis Picamoles and Fulgence Ouedraogo - may have played a part in the bizarre episode, newspapers suggest.

According to an internal investigation by the team, Picamoles and Ouedraogo came back to the Holiday Inn at 5.22am on June 21 in a taxi with two women, while Bastareaud arrived at the same time in a second taxi, news agency Agence France Presse reported.

"Drunk and aggressive, Bastareaud was reportedly calmed down by a fist from one of his teammates," according to an account sketched by the daily Le Parisien. It also quoted Picamoles and Ouedraogo as denying this.

Picamoles, Bastareaud, Yannick Jauzion and Thomas Domingo, on the injury list, flew back from the tour last Monday, while Ouedraogo stayed on to play against the Wallabies.

The Bleus' tour of Australia and New Zealand started badly when a farewell ceremony at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport was scrapped.

The team were taking the inaugural flight of an A380 Singapore Airlines superjumbo from Paris. But a glitzy celebration was replaced by a minute's silence for the loss of the Air France A330 jetliner over the mid-Atlantic the day before.

After notching up an unexpected 27-22 win over the All Blacks in Dunedin, the French lost the second test 10-14 in Wellington before being steamrollered 22-6 against the Wallabies.

"Overall, we put in a good performance," said captain Thierry Dusautoir in Sydney. "Very few people would have put any money on us a month ago."

The team return to France tired at the end of an 11-month season, with a long list of injured players. Bastareaud faces a disciplinary commission that could lead to a fine or suspension from the team.

Team bosses face tough questions about their handling of the scandal.

One is why Pierre Camou, president of the French Rugby Federation, and Jo Maso, the Bleus' manager, leapt to defend Bastareaud.

They insist they were duped by the player. Le Parisien said acidly: "Taking a bit of distance in handling this affair would have helped to avoid a diplomatic incident and prevented French rugby from looking ridiculous." Le Monde described the incident as a "torment" for les Bleus.

And sports daily L'Equipe said: "The Bastareaud affair is far from over."

- NZ Herald

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