Wallabies sponsor Qantas Airways was forced to apologise publicly on Sunday for posting a picture on its Twitter feed of two fans in black face paint and "afro" wigs at the Tri-Nations decider.
The pair had won tickets to the match in a Qantas competition and were dressed up in tribute to Fiji-born Radike Samo, a key try-scorer in the high-stakes decider.
"We apologise the photo of two Radike fans offended people," Qantas said on its Twitter feed after the image, taken by a fan and retweeted by the airline, sparked a barrage of complaints.
"We've spoken with Radike and whilst he has no issue with it we have removed the image.
"It was meant to show their support - Radike Samo is their favourite player. Certainly not meant to offend anyone."
Once used in black-and-white minstrel shows, the practice of donning black face paint, or "blacking up", is considered racist in Australia. A television network had to apologise over a skit in which white actors painted their faces to mimic the Jackson Five in 2009.
But Samo, making a remarkable comeback to international Test rugby at 35, said he'd gladly posed for pictures with the pair and didn't understand "what the fuss is all about".
"These guys were actually paying me a tribute, it was a bit of fun and I think it's great that they regarded me as their favourite Wallaby," he said.
"I didn't have an issue with it at all... I don't know why anyone's getting worked up, that sort of reaction is just silly."
An Australian Rugby Union spokesman said the imposing loose forward was a "cult figure" in Queensland, where he was recently part of the winning Super Rugby Reds side.
"And after his performance in last night's Test (he) may well become a cult figure around the country during the World Cup in New Zealand," the spokesman said.
"These guys dressing up were Radike fans and Radike thought it was awesome. He felt neither offended nor insulted."
The fan who originally uploaded the picture, said it was "only our intention to show support for Radike Samo, our favourite player, and the Wallabies..."
"I would like to apologise for the incident, in no way was it my intention to offend anyone and I am deeply sorry," he said.
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