Referee hit by baby-holding spectator

A rugby referee has been king-hit by a spectator holding a baby, after a controversial end to a game in Auckland.

The attack happened during a Samoan United Rugby Shield game between the Auckland Eagles and Laulii Liona at Williams Park in Mangere at the weekend.

Auckland rugby referees manager Mike Elliott confirmed the incident and said it was being investigated by the disciplinary committee.

Tournament organiser Moe Mata'afa said the event happened after the Eagles scored the winning try in injury time before one of the Laulii players made a late tackle.

As the referee spoke with the Laulii captain after he awarded the Eagles a penalty, he was allegedly abused by one of the Laulii team's support staff and ended the game.

Mr Mata'afa said that, soon after, as the referee stood in the officials' tent talking to some of the players, the man - understood to be a spectator - entered the tent and punched the referee from behind. The man then fled.

"The players of the team that lost were very experienced players and they know the referee... they were talking to him in the tent and someone just from nowhere punched the referee."

"But it wasn't a real [bad punch] because he had a baby in one hand."

He believed the incident was sparked by the referee's decision to end the game won by the Eagles 14-12, early.

Mr Mata'afa said they had called police but the unidentified man had already fled.

He said the incident was the first of its kind in the tournament's six-year history.

The tournament is played following the regular rugby season and consists of teams made up by players from the same villages in Samoa.

It was made up of Auckland and Counties Manukau club and secondary school rugby players.

Mr Elliott said the referee had not suffered any serious injuries and would referee again this weekend.

"We would like to find the culprit but a member of the public is pretty hard to find when they disappear into the woodwork."

Otahuhu Senior Sergeant Laurie Culpan confirmed the assault but said they had not located the offender.

"Police were called but obviously by the time we got there the spectator had disappeared, which is fairly common for these sort of things," he said.

Mr Culpan said since it was not a serious assault, the enquiries were being left to the Auckland Rugby Union, with police to act on any information provided by them.

"As you can imagine from our perspective, everybody's gone, there are that many lines of inquiry for a minor assault, it would chew an inordinate amount of police time."

He said the rugby union had measures they could take such as bans on individuals or standing clubs down in order to get the person to come forward.

"That said, if the offender was apprehended there and then of course we would be making an arrest."

The attack is the latest in a series of assaults on sports referees this year.

In April, Waikato rugby player Taylor Anae Sione, 28, hit Hamilton referee Roly Bolton in the face after he was red-carded for knocking out an opposition player.

In May, South Canterbury soccer player Vinny Dias was suspended for six games after he verbally abused a referee.

Also, in the same weekend in South Canterbury Darren Bolt, 18, was suspended from rugby for two years after he intimidated and manhandled a referee who had given him a yellow card.