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Former South African Rugby Union president Luyt dies at 80

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Associated Press
2/1/2013 9:37:54 AM
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Louis Luyt, the undiplomatic former head of the South African Rugby Union who presided over the Springboks' return to international rugby and their victory at the 1995 World Cup, has died. He was 80.

SARU said Luyt, a former player, administrator, newspaper proprietor, businessman and politician, died Friday at his home outside Durban on South Africa's east coast after a long illness.

"Doc Luyt was a single-minded and determined individual who dominated rugby politics," SARU President Oregan Hoskins said.

As a fierce leader and president, Luyt turned around the fortunes of the Johannesburg-based Transvaal union and then took South Africa's national team from rugby isolation to the very top of the game with victory over New Zealand at Ellis Park in the 1995 World Cup final.

But Luyt also became notorious and unpopular in his country after he forced Nelson Mandela -- then South Africa's president -- to give evidence for five hours in court in 1998 when the national rugby body challenged the government's right to intrude and appoint a commission of inquiry into rugby in South Africa.

Luyt won the case but it still led to him losing the support of the union and eventually resigning.

Luyt also had a reputation for being highly inconsiderate to opposing teams, most famously when he made an insensitive speech at a dinner following the '95 World Cup final and said that the Springboks would have won the previous two tournaments had they been allowed to play in them. The All Blacks walked out of the dinner.

He also offered a gold watch as a present to Welsh referee Derek Bevan for the official's handling of South Africa's tight win over France in the semifinals.

Luyt's ability to succeed at all costs was accepted by all, however, after he rose from his start as a fertilizer salesman in South Africa's remote Karoo desert to be a millionaire businessman, the owner of a newspaper and the founder of a political party.

For rugby, he was one of the world game's key figures when the sport went professional after the 1995 World Cup and faced a threat from breakaway leagues offering the best players money to abandon their national unions. Luyt kept the then-world champion Springboks in line and loyal to their country's national union and the rest of the world's top stars followed.

For South Africa, he was instrumental in getting the newly-democratic country to host the World Cup in the first place, allowing it one of its most emotional and important moments when Mandela shook hands with Springbok captain Francois Pienaar and passed him the William Webb Ellis World Cup trophy after the home country's victory.

Luyt was also standing on the podium that day.

"If, for nothing else, he will be remembered for being the man who brought the 1995 Rugby World Cup to South Africa, creating an occasion that showed the country what it could achieve in unity," SARU said.

Luyt is survived by his wife and four children.

South Africa flag (Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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