Wellington rugby fan banned after knockout

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 28/06/2014

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A rugby supporter who ran on to the field and knocked a player out has been banned from the game for five years.

It means he can't watch any Wellington rugby, though he could still see the All Blacks at Westpac Stadium as local rugby bosses have no control over who can attend internationals.

The attack at Helston Park last Saturday was during an under-85kg match between Johnsonville and Hutt Old Boys Marist.

It was the second time in a week where a spectator has gone on to the field in Wellington club rugby and become involved in a skirmish, prompting the Wellington Rugby Football Union (WRFU) to lay down the law about sideline behaviour.

Hutt Old Boys Marist chairman John Sheehan said the fan was not a club member.

"He was a friend of a friend of a player. Unfortunately he's part of the lunatic fringe that is associated with any sport. I wouldn't know him if I fell over him."

Sheehan said according to witnesses, there was some "niggle" during the game. A scuffle escalated when a Johnsonville reserve went on to the field.

The spectator then went on the field and punched a Johnsonville player. The referee called the game off.

WRFU amateur rugby manager Will Caccia-Birch said the fan had been drinking. He is barred from attending or playing in any rugby match run by Wellington Rugby for five years, though he will be able to attend All Black tests because they are held under the umbrella of the national body.

"This sanction is simply what can be expected for a spectator that has come on to the field without good reason and knocked someone out," Caccia-Birch said.

He was undecided on whether to lay charges against the fan.

A Wellington police spokesman said it would welcome an approach by anyone who believed they were assaulted.

Sheehan said the club fully supported the five-year ban. "We don't condone violence of any kind."

WRFU chairman Peter Scott said the incident was "very disappointing".

"The sanction handed down was a reflection on the WRFU not tolerating this sort of behaviour."

Johnsonville RFC chairman Mike Segetin declined to comment yesterday.

Another spectator was handed a six-week playing ban after invading the field and starting a scuffle during a match between Paremata-Plimmerton and Poneke at Ngatitoa Domain on June 14.

"While the individual himself did not throw any punches, he was found responsible for initiating the incident which saw three other individuals move on to the field, forcing officials to end the match," Scott said.

Paremata-Plimmerton chairman Lyall Hedges said the young man was remorseful. He had consumed one beer, Hedges said.

"He went to grab a player off a Paremata-Plimmerton player, but he accepts he should not have been on the field."

Scott said the Paremata-Plimmerton club had reacted well, asking the club member to do an associate referees' course, get involved in the junior rugby programme, and help on the sidelines.

The union was working with all Wellington clubs to ensure the safety of players, officials and spectators.

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"We find these recent incidents completely unacceptable."

It had strongly reminded all clubs of their responsibilities in managing sideline behaviour, Scott said.

"We need to ensure the playing enclosure is roped for all premier games, with a dedicated ground manager in place, while clubs also need to maintain awareness of their liquor licensing requirements to ensure the safety of all patrons."

Every weekend, 11,000 registered players took to the field with supporters in tow, and behaved well, he said.

Caccia-Birch described the two incidents as isolated.

"I wouldn't say drunkenness is a problem at club rugby matches. In saying that, we won't turn a blind eye to what has happened with these two events."

- The Dominion Post

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