Rugby player let off assault charge
A club rugby player accused of kicking an opposition coach in the head during a violent on-field skirmish has had an assault charge against him thrown out of court.
The coach lay unconscious on the ground, having been king hit "roundhouse" style by a man in a grey hoodie. This man is yet to be identified.
The ugly incident took place in a senior B match on May 14 last year between Kia Toa and Bush at Bill Brown Park, Palmerston North.
The match was called off after a brawl erupted in the second half and Palmerston North labourer Feamoeatu "Ata" Fakalelu, 27, was charged with assaulting Bush coach Andrew Rankin.
Mr Rankin couldn't remember being hit or kicked but told the Manawatu Standard it had put him off coaching, and this year his only involvement in rugby was helping with his son's team.
Prosecution witnesses told Palmerston North District Court they saw Fakalelu take aim at Mr Rankin's head and deliberately kick him.
But Fakalelu and Kia Toa chairman Craig Mangos saw things differently, saying Mr Rankin fell on Fakalelu, who thrust his leg out.
He did so because he was running backwards, away from Bush players advancing on him.
Judge Jennifer Binns found in Fakalelu's favour.
"[Mr Rankin] suffered a significant blow and was motionless on the ground.
"People were shocked that that had actually happened," Judge Binns said.
"I'm not satisfied that the prosecution have proved that Mr Fakalelu's actions were intentional and in fact the finding I make is that what happened was in accordance with the defendant's explanation.
"And I think it is important for him that he know that and know that there has been a positive finding in support of his position."
He said he heard Mr Rankin getting "smacked" behind him.
"Then [he] just hit the side of my knee and landed right in front of me," Fakalelu said.
"There were just fists flying everywhere and I copped a few as well," he said.
Fakalelu ran off in a panic.
Mr Mangos saw that and said Fakalelu "instinctively" kicked his leg at the falling Mr Rankin, who he said had suffered a "roundhouse hit".
Earlier in the trial, prosecution witnesses described Fakalelu kicking Mr Rankin, with one comparing the blow to a goal kick.
"I've been involved in rugby for 41 years and I've never seen anything like that," Leslie Holland said.
Away from court, Mr Rankin said it was "unbelievable" that the assault charge was dropped.
He suffered severe headaches for four to six months after the incident and recently experienced severe pain when had received a knock to the head.
Mr Rankin said he hadn't returned to senior coaching this year, although might in the future.
Mr Mangos said Kia Toa had yet to determine Fakalelu's future with the club.
"We won't make a decision until we've consulted with Manawatu Rugby," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Did you go to the Palmerston North Santa Parade?Related story: (See story)