Syndicate link to Kiwi poisoning of '95

Wellington - The food poisoning scandal surrounding the 1995 All Blacks World Cup rugby team has surfaced again with the release of a biography by the team's security guard.

A South African security guard assigned to the team has written a book backing up claims by All Black coach Laurie Mains that the All Blacks were got at before the cup final - suggesting their food was poisoned.

Rory Steyn, a former head of security for South African president Nelson Mandela, revives the poisoning suggestion in his book, One Step Behind Mandela, the Story of Rory Steyn.

The All Blacks lost 15-12 in an epic final which went into extra time against the host nation, a late dropped goal giving the Springboks victory.

Several of the All Blacks had been ill before the match with Jeff Wilson and Andrew Mehrtens among the worst affected. A weak Wilson had to be replaced before the match finished.

Afterwards there were claims from the All Blacks' camp of food poisoning.

This theory was largely rejected until the recent release of Steyn's book.

Mains, now coaching in South Africa, was unavailable to comment on Thursday.

The first real support for his often repeated claims of deliberate food poisoning at the team's hotel comes in a chapter titled "The All Blacks and Food Poisoning".

Mains had alleged his players were got at by a waitress called Suzie.

On the Thursday before the Saturday final in Johannesburg, most of the All Blacks went to a cinema complex. Steyn accompanied prop Richard Loe.

Loe vomited immediately after the movie while Wilson had severe stomach cramps.

Steyn said he knew then he had a serious problem on his hands.

"We raced back to the hotel and when I got up to the doctor's room it looked like a battle zone - like a scene from a war movie," Steyn says in the book.

"Players were lying all over the place and the doctor and physio were walking around injecting them.

"I was a police officer, I worked with facts. What my eyes told me that night was that the team had deliberately been poisoned."

Steyn said medical staff were able to get most of the players back to playing shape apart from Mehrtens and Wilson.

He said the "illness" which had swept through the team had a major impact on the All Blacks' preparation for the final.

"I had to endure accusations of complicity in this, from New Zealand officials, and I was very angry that this was allowed to happen in my country - to people in my care," Steyn said.

The security man says the All Blacks were the best team in the competition - "against the Ellis' Park altitude and against food poisoning they ran South Africa close into extra time, so close.

"Laurie Mains, now the highly popular coach of the Cats, says that he'll go to his grave wondering what would have happened if the All Blacks had not been sick," Steyn said in the book.

Mains employed a private investigator in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Steyn said the investigator reported back that a Far Eastern betting syndicate had paid a waitress called Suzie at the All Blacks' hotel to put something in their water.

"South African rugby fans remained sceptical of this theory and preferred to put it down to sour Kiwi grapes," Steyn said.

"To my fellow South Africans I want to say this: Stop all those cheap jokes about Suzie, the food poisoning and whingeing Kiwis. It happened. There is no doubt that the All Blacks were poisoned two days before the final.

"The All Black team never whinged about it. If anybody whinged it was their media and boy can they whinge.

"In fact the New Zealand team management took a decision not to use the poisoning as an excuse, not to even mention it."

Steyn said it was only when New Zealand media got wind of the food poisoning and questioned the All Blacks management that the claims began to gain momentum.

There was no hint by Steyn as to how the All Blacks were poisoned.

Mains was said to be relieved and delighted with Steyn's portrayal of events.

It is the first time a South African in a position of respect has backed his claims of food poisoning. Mains has mainly been rubbished in the republic for his views. - Sapa-NZPA

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