An aspiring All Black continued to drive while disqualified because he said he needed to get to training to work on his fitness.
Benjamin Charles Tameifuna, a 21-year-old prop who trained with the All Blacks before the test series against Ireland earlier this year, was dropped from the Hawke's Bay Magpies front row last month because he was thought to be overweight.
When he trained with the All Blacks he was the heaviest in the squad, at 138 kilograms. He never took the field.
On September 13 he was caught driving the 16 kilometres from his Hastings home to rugby practice at Park Island in Napier, despite having been suspended last year for having too many demerit points.
He had also been caught driving twice before when he should not have been.
He pleaded guilty in Hastings District Court yesterday to two charges of driving while disqualified. He was also caught on October 25, driving to get his car deregistered.
He appeared at court with his nose bandaged from recent surgery to fix his sleep apnoea, a sleep disorder characterised by abnormal pauses in breathing.
Lawyer Roger Philip told the court Tameifuna was a promising young man who had the support of the rugby fraternity.
He was part of the Chiefs Super Rugby-winning team last season, and the franchise wanted him back, Mr Philip said. He has already been named in the 2013 squad.
The Chiefs had developed an eight-point plan to address Tameifuna's performance both on and off the field, the court was told.
Judge Richard Watson said that, although Tameifuna breached a court order, he had not been caught speeding or driving recklessly.
The judge was impressed with a submission from Chiefs assistant coach Tom Coventry, who had known Tameifuna for some time. He said Coventry had "wonderful insight" into Tameifuna's background, which was "not as privileged as some".
Judge Watson sentenced Tameifuna to 50 hours' community work and disqualified him from driving for nine months. He told him he hoped he would use his community work to talk to and inspire young rugby players.
Tameifuna is facing a New Zealand Rugby Union misconduct charge relating to his driving offences.
Coventry said outside court that Tameifuna could not comment while he was still facing that charge.
Magpies coach Craig Philpott declined to comment on the matter yesterday.
It is 16km from Ben Tameifuna's home in Hastings to the Magpies' training ground at Park Island in Napier.
It would have cost $50 to $60 to catch a taxi.
A $4.80 bus ticket would get him to Napier, but not directly to Park Island.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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