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New Zealand rugby ‘spygate’ saga continues

February 8, 2017

Police have arrested an All Blacks security guard for planting a listening device in the team’s Sydney hotel room last year. Some Australians, offended by earlier veiled accusations, are now calling for an apology.

Australien Rugby Union Bledisloe Cup Australien vs New Zealand
Kieran Read runs the ball during last August's Bledisloe Cup clash against the Wallabies.Image: Getty Images/B. Thorne

A plot twist shook an ongoing New Zealand rugby spy drama on Tuesday, after a member of their own security team was arrested and charged for planting a listening device in the All Black's hotel in Sydney last year.

New Zealand management found the device, which was hidden inside a chair, during a routine security sweep of a meeting room used by the team for tactical planning ahead of their Bledisloe Cup test match in August against the Wallabies.

The news didn't emerge, however, until six days later - the morning of the game. All Black officials said they delayed reporting the discovery to police until after they had informed hotel management and New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew, who was attending the Rio Olympics.

Australien Neuseelands Rugby-Team entdeckt Aufnahmegerät im Hotel
New Zealand's Steven Tew reveals the discovery of the listening device ahead of last year's Bledisloe Cup openerImage: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Moir

A ‘bizarre and unbelievable' development

The 51-year-old accused, Adrian Gard, was a security consultant who had frequently worked with the All Blacks, eliciting shock from the Kiwi team.

"Frankly, the charge seems bizarre and unbelievable. It's very hard to understand," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said in a statement.

"The charged man has worked for the All Blacks, and many other organizations, for a long time and is someone who is trusted and well respected by us,” he said. "However, as with all cases before the courts, there has to be a due process that takes place and it is not right or proper for us to make any further comment as this could jeopardize the outcome of the case."

Australian media calls for an apology

While New Zealand never accused Australia or the Wallabies team of misconduct, the incident soured the nations' already heated rivalry, dominating headlines and fuelling social media vitriol throughout the season.

After the All Blacks swept the Bledisloe Cup in October, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika reprimanded the New Zealanders' lack of respect at failing to report the listening device until game day.

Australien Wallabies Rugby-Team
The Wallabies training ahead of last August's Bledisloe Cup match against the New Zealand All BlacksImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tsikas

On Wednesday, in his column for Fairfax Media, journalist and former Wallaby Peter FitzSimons called for New Zealand fans to apologize to their trans-Tasman neighbors for their veiled finger-pointing.

"It seems Michael Cheika wasn't behind the All Black bugging scandal of August last year, hadn't placed a listening device in their team room," he wrote. "Far from it being anyone in the Australian camp, as was darkly insinuated in the Kiwi rugby community, the true culprit - it is alleged, but it will be for the courts to decide - appears likely to be someone within their own outfit!"

Wally Mason, sports editor of "The Australian" newspaper, also demanded an apology in an editorial published Wednesday.

"Probably now would be a good time to say sorry, New Zealand," he wrote. "So rather than the Wallabies cheating by attempting to bug the All Blacks, the Kiwis got an unfair advantage by unsettling the Australians."

The world champions thrashed the Wallabies 42-8 the day news of the scandal became public.

But Cheika said he is not anticipating an apology from the New Zealand Rugby Union.

"An apology to us? No, I'm not expecting anything like that, I don't think that's necessary," Cheika said Wednesday. New Zealand Rugby "made their call, and now that's all there is to it." He said inferences the Australian team was involved in the bugging were "ridiculous."

A history of rugby espionage?

The Bledisloe Cup bugging incident, however, is only the latest in a series of alleged espionage that could write the screenplay to a Jason Bourne-rugby crossover film. Allegations include several instances of deliberate food poisoning, illegal surveillance and scheming with cameramen.

Australien Neuseelands Rugby-Team entdeckt Aufnahmegerät im Hotel
Australian police officers leave the hotel where the listening device was discovered in a team meeting roomImage: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Moir

Two days before the 1995 Rugby World Cup final against South Africa, the Kiwi opposition claimed their lunch had been knowingly poisoned, resulting in an epidemic of violent illness and their eventual loss.

During the 2003 World Cup in Australia, "spies" kitted out in rugby gear instead of camouflage fatigues were accused of infiltrating training bases. And in Melbourne in 2010, a photographer took a long lens photo of then All Blacks coach Graham Henry's training notes, which was published in several Australian newspapers. It was later revealed that the photographer, Scott Barbour, was a Kiwi himself.

Adrian Gard is scheduled to appear in a Sydney court on March 21.

mcm/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)