Rugby-New Zealand TV commentator apologises for mock Asian accent during interview

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Rugby World Cup 2019 - Quarter Final - Japan v South Africa

(Reuters) - A New Zealand rugby commentator has apologised to Otago Highlanders flanker Kazuki Himeno for comments he made in a mock Asian accent following their 33-12 victory over Canterbury Crusaders in the Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Speaking with Highlanders fly half Mitch Hunt after Friday's game, Joe Wheeler, who commentates for Sky Sport, highlighted the performance of Japan international Himeno, who impressed in his first start for the team.

"He was leally impressive, wasn't he? He was leally, leally good," Wheeler said, sparking outrage on social media, with users labelling him "immature", "racist" and "disgusting".

Wheeler, a former Highlander who also played for Suntory Sungoliath in the Japanese Top League, apologised on Twitter.

"I stuffed up," he wrote. "I've spoken with (Kazuki Himeno) and apologised to him and the Highlanders and our Sky crew.

"I absolutely accept this is not the standard expected of the sideline team. I've got some work to do obviously, but I'm absolutely committed to doing better."

Himeno said he accepted Wheeler's apology.

"It's ok, Joe. Let's enjoy and celebrate our big victory. Let's go landers," he wrote on Twitter.

Sky chief executive Sophie Moloney condemned Wheeler's comments and said the network "will keep striving to reflect and respect everyone in our community."

Wheeler's comments "are not who we are at Sky, and we need to do better," Moloney said in a statement to New Zealand media.

(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by William Mallard)