Requests to sideline a Wellington rugby player facing serious assault charges were ignored, allowing him to run on the field while the two men he allegedly attacked remain too injured to play.
The Tawa player – charged with assault with intent to injure two Pōneke players – was given interim name suppression when he appeared in Wellington District Court last week. He entered no plea to the charges, which carry a maximum jail term of three years.
Game day sheets show he ran out on the field when his team played Old Boys University (OBU) at Tawa’s Lyndhurst Park on Saturday. Tawa lost nine to 27.
Old Boys chairman Jaesen Sumner told Stuff he got word on Thursday that the player was selected to play.
He emailed NZ Rugby saying his club was not happy due to the “seriousness of the charges”. The call reflected badly on rugby, he said.
He also emailed the Tawa rugby chairman: “On behalf of OBU I have to say we are disappointed in Tawa’s decision to play this player and the manner in which this will reflect on the Wellington rugby community,” the email, supplied to Stuff, said.
“We will play the game in good spirit but, nevertheless, I can assure you if it were an OBU player we would have no hesitation in standing him down indefinitely until matters are resolved.”
That email was forwarded to Wellington Rugby shortly before kick-off on Saturday.
“We think it is appalling this gentleman can play today or again until matters are resolved,” an accompanying note said.
He understood that NZ Rugby and Wellington Rugby both had their hands tied as the call was with the Tawa club, which decided to send the player out.
The player’s identity – while suppressed – was well-known in Wellington rugby circles and he had heard other clubs were unhappy with him playing.
The Tawa rugby club and NZ Rugby have been approached for comment.
Saturday’s game was played on Wellington City Council-owned Lyndhurst Park and councillor Simon Woolf – who has the sport portfolio – believed it would have been sensible to stand the player down while the court process was ongoing.
Pōneke board member Nick Shanks said he was aware that Tawa had allowed the accused player back on the field.
The two injured Pōneke players were out of hospital but were still not recovered enough to play, he said.
Wellington Rugby was asked whether it was told the player was back on the field, whether it approved it, and whether it was acceptable that he was allowed to play. It did not answer but issued a short statement.
“[Wellington Rugby’s] focus is making sure our clubs are recognised as the welcoming, inclusive and safe environments, that they are,” the statement said.
“The police investigation and the courts will ascertain what happened and who was involved.
“Wellington Rugby will decide on what further action to take, once that process has concluded.”
Stuff recently revealed the early-July brawl, which involved players from Tawa and Pōneke clubs, as well as others. Detective Sergeant Steve Westcott earlier said the injuries to the two players were severe enough that the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) was investigating.
Two others have also been charged as a result of the brawl. One, facing a single charge of assault with intent to injure, was remanded on bail without plea. A third man, charged with assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, is due in court this week.