Visitors take shine to pub's precious sign

LAURA MCLEAY & KATRINA LINTONBON
Last updated 18:06 23/09/2011

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Sharp-eyed Matamata locals have left some visitors, believed to be Springbok rugby players, feeling sheepish after snapping them allegedly carrying off a sign during a visit to the town.

South African rugby players surprised Matamata people with a stop in the town yesterday, but rather than the much-photographed Gollum statue on Broadway it was a pub TAB sign the men allegedly thought precious in the Waikato town best known for its Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film fame.

Trac Sports Bar owner Gail Bailey said after players left the bar at 2pm a couple of passers-by came in to report on two men taking its TAB sign and loading it into a white van.

"I ran up to them, one with dark hair and a beard, one with blonde hair, and said 'someone saw you nick my sign'," Mrs Bailey said.

She said the men had strong South African accents.

Both unidentified men denied taking the sign, but she assured them that they had been seen. After denying it a second time, she told them she would call the police.

"They then looked at me for a moment and said they will go and bring it back soon. I told them, 'no I want it now!"' She said the men then gave her the sign back.

Mrs Bailey said she felt angry that someone would want to take the sign.

"Nothing goes unnoticed in Matamata, does it?" she said. "They are rugby players here in our country."

Springboks media manager Andy Colquhoun said he was unable to comment because he had to discuss the alleged incident with the team's management.

Redoubt Bar and Eatery duty manager Christina Carter said players stopped in there for a few drinks after that.
"They were a bit mischievous while they were here but in high spirits. We were keeping a close eye on them, though," she said.

"They were really nice to the customers and didn't complain about anything."

Two players, Schalk Berger and Butch James, who were not believed to be linked to the sign incident, were approached by the Matamata Chronicle during their visit.

They said they were members of the Springboks team, but one called himself the South African coach Peter De Villiers.

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- Matamata Chronicle

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