French players in confrontation with press

STEVE HOPKINS AND MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 19:00 25/10/2011
Pascal Pape
MICHAEL BRADLEY/Fairfax NZ
CONFRONTATION?: French lock Pascal Pape.

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French rugby players have allegedly been involved in an incident with press photographers outside an Auckland city restaurant this afternoon.

A photographer claimed he was spat on by French lock Pascal Pape, while another alleged that he was slapped in the face by another player outside Pastis restaurant, TVNZ reported.

Footage showed Pape being steered away from the road-side by loose forward Fulgence Ouedraogo outside the  restaurant, which is on the corner of Nelson and Victoria Sts.

New Zealand Herald photographer Dean Purcell was shown standing outside the restaurant with team members and asking for his memory card back.

Footage showed Pape responding "I don't speak English, sorry" when asked if he spat on a photographer.

Police were called to the incident, TVNZ said, however, Auckland police inspector Kerry Watson said no charges had been laid.

A spokesperson for the French rugby team admitted there was an incident at the restaurant, but said it involved French supporters, not players and that Pape had not spat on anyone.

He said the team was finishing lunch when a photographer started taking pictures of them inside the restaurant.

The spokesman said the photographer was told ''please leave (us) alone'' and ''not to take a picture of us'' and to leave.

''After that the photographer continued, he was asked to leave... I'm not sure what happened then''.

He believed French supporters had escorted the photographer from the restaurant.

Pastis owner and manager Alex Roux confirmed 10 members of the French rugby team along with two of the players' wives were at the restaurant from around 1pm to 3pm before their flight back to France.

They had Pastis cocktails, beer, champagne and ox rib at the bar of the French restaurant in downtown Auckland, he said. "It was a very friendly party."

He heard from he maître d' at the time that one of the players went outside to confront a media photographer who was taking pictures through an open window.

"The photographer was told to go away. They wanted a private party."

He said he was busy working so didn't speak with the photographer and the maître d' who dealt with the incident had finished their shift and gone home.

The incident follows another involving French players at a Viaduct Harbour restaurant yesterday which is understood to have left some hospitality staff in tears.

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Kermadec General Manager Hamish Klein said there was a ''small incident'' at the restaurant's bar yesterday when some French players were refused alcohol.

Klein said a few players ''decided to turn up and utilise the place'' ahead of the International Rugby Board awards dinner last night.

''The bar manager stopped serving... no one was removed and the manager of the federation (French rugby union) was quick to step in and sort it out.''

Social media has been abuzz with claims the incident left staff in tears, but Klein downplayed its significance.

He said staff were tired and ''sensitive'' having worked ''around the clock'', often working 14-hour days during the tournament, but the incident had not resulted in a complaint.

The French rugby team spokesman said he didn't ''know anything about it''.

Klein said the restaurant had enjoyed hosting the French who had booked the restaurant for 33 days from September 23, mainly for the use of rugby administrators, players' families, diplomats and dignitaries.

The French team are due to fly home this week following their 8-7 loss to the All Blacks on Sunday.

- Stuff

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