This article was first published in 2021, it has been re-published in the wake of Alan Jones facing accusations of using his position of power to prey on multiple young men, engaging in indecent assaults and inappropriate behaviour without their consent.
In the wake of writing about Douglas Jardine, possibly the most unpleasant man in the history of test cricket, the spirit of the Christmas Grinch had me considering the most obnoxious rugby person I've ever met.
Former Wallabies coach and Sydney media giant Alan Jones sprang to mind. I’ll be forever ashamed that I was one of a group of journalists who didn’t challenge Jones when he launched a vicious verbal attack on an Otago Daily Times writer, Alistair McMurran, after Australia had lost a test at Carisbrook in 1986.
Jones had misconstrued a preview by McMurran in that morning's paper, and screamed at him: "Who the hell do you think you are? How dare you attack the most decent group of young men it's ever been my privilege to know."
Little did we know that Jones was just warming up. Before a stellar radio career ground to a halt, he suggested in 2012 that then Prime Minister Julia Gillard's father had "died of shame" because his daughter had told lies, and had approvingly read on air a text suggesting "every Aussie in the Shire get down to North Cronulla" to support bashing Lebanese.
But Jones' most egregious actions were entirely outside the game, and he was capable of a slimy sort of charm.
For sheer unadulterated, relentless thuggery, I can't go past Louis Luyt, the South African who led the world's charge to professional rugby in 1995.
If you'd never seen the man in action you might reasonably picture a visionary, or possibly a diplomat, steering the game through potentially cataclysmic changes.
In fact, big Louis was so arrogant, boorish and dictatorial that if he hadn't been flesh and blood you'd swear a cruel comedian had dreamed up a caricature of an appalling bully boy.
Luyt was a good enough rugby lock to play in an Orange Free State team that beat the 1960 All Blacks 9-8 in Bloemfontein, and then became a self-made multi-millionaire in the fertiliser industry.
In 1976, he founded The Citizen newspaper, which, it would be revealed, was actually illegally financed by the white government of the day, under Prime Minister John Vorster.
By 1979 Vorster resigned his honorary position as South African president in disgrace, and the man who ran the slush fund, Secretary for Information Eschel Rhoodie, turned on Luyt, calling him "probably the most dishonest man I've ever met".
Luyt sailed on, and by the early 1990s was the most powerful man in South African rugby. When South Africa elected Nelson Mandela president in 1994, Luyt was the head of the South African Rugby Union.
The Rugby World Cup in 1995 should have been his crowning moment. Grounds were sold out - it was strongly rumoured Luyt did especially well personally from ticket sales at Ellis Park, which he had bought when the Transvaal rugby union was going bankrupt - and despite Luyt's past, President Mandela embraced the tournament, as the Rainbow Nation, competing for the first time, won the title.
But Luyt couldn't help himself. After he'd spoken at the lavish dinner that followed the final, the All Blacks, the French, the English and the referees walked out.
On stage, he said the Springboks were the first "true" world champions. "There were no true world champions in the 1987 and 1991 World Cups because South Africa were not there. We have proved our point."
Then he produced a $3000 gold watch, which he presented to Welsh referee John Bevan. "He is the most wonderful referee in the world. If everyone does not think that, I certainly do. I would ask him to step up and receive this gift as the outstanding referee in the World Cup."
Bevan had denied the French a crucial last-minute try in their semifinal against South Africa. "It was something [the presentation of the watch] I could have done without," Bevan said later. "It came out of the blue. I have no idea why he singled me out. It could be misconstrued, and if that is the case, it leaves a bitter taste."
Two days after the dinner I sat down in Johannesburg with All Black Mike Brewer to finish a book we'd been working on, and he told me he was so offended by what Luyt said he asked team manager Colin Meads if he could speak to Luyt.
“I was determined I wouldn’t raise my voice, or swear at all. I told him, ‘95 per cent of the people in the hall are astounded with the way you’ve presented yourself, and what you’ve said’.
"He went straight on the attack. He shouted at me and said I was a typical New Zealander who couldn't take losing, that I was a pig. Then he started swearing at me, telling me to 'f*** off'. He really showed his true colours."
In 2003, Luyt was still angry about the All Blacks, telling a South Africa journalist that All Black claims they had food poisoning before the ‘95 final was just whining and squealing. “I do not even believe they were sick at all. It is just an excuse for losing.”
He had vitriol left over for South Africans too. When he felt Springbok rugby captain Francois Pienaar had got the better of him in negotiations for players’ contracts, he did his best to destroy his career, telling him, according to South African journalist Max du Preez, “the line between love and hate is a thin one, and I hate you”.
I had my own weird encounters with Luyt. In 1994, during the Springbok tour of New Zealand, I was asked by Bob Howitt, the editor of Rugby News, to interview Luyt, who was in New Zealand for the whole tour.
When I first phoned Luyt and politely asked if I could interview him he acted as if I'd shouted abuse down the line. I was rude, he was a busy man, he didn't have time, he was going now. Bang. The phone went down.
I checked back with Bob, and offered to keep ringing Luyt every week, mostly for my own entertainment. For the next four weeks a highlight for me would be the angry, but strangely more and more lengthy, rejections I got from Luyt.
Then came the last game of the tour, the third test at Auckland at Eden Park. The match was drawn 18-all, and downstairs reporters gathered outside the All Blacks’ changing shed.
When the post-match interviews were over I was checking my tape recorder when I spotted a choleric figure in a Springbok blazer standing across the concrete floor. Louis Luyt in person.
I walked over to him and introduced myself. He swelled up and snapped. "You! You're the one that's been pestering me while I've been here. You're a rude man. How dare you bother me. I'm a busy man."
He paused for breath. It seemed a hopeless request, but, for what I knew would be the last time, I asked if it might be possible to interview him. His answer astonished me. “Okay, but hurry it up.”
So we talked for about a quarter of an hour. We finished with Luyt's modest prediction that the '95 World Cup would be "light years" ahead of the 1991 tournament.
As I thanked him I looked down to click off the tape recorder. His back was turned and he was walking briskly away.
That night there was a formal dinner at Eden Park. But Luyt was nowhere to be seen.
I asked a South African journalist what had happened. “Louis is angry because when he was late for the team bus back to the hotel from Eden Park, they left without him. Apparently, he was doing an interview with someone.”