An 18-year-old rugby referee from Wellington was attacked by a player at a Wairarapa senior reserve club rugby match on Saturday.
The incident happened just before halftime during Marist’s match against Tuhirangi at Memorial Park in Masterton.
A Marist player was red-carded for punching one of the Tuhirangi players, and then is alleged to have punched the referee twice before being expelled from the ground.
The player in question will face the judiciary on Wednesday where his sentence will be decided.
Alex Blakeway was the referee on exchange from Wellington and was given the chance to call the match off after the incident.
He did not suffer any significant injury and it was a testament to his character that he decided to continue the match.
Wairarapa-Bush Referees Association chairman Graeme Reisima said the incident was the first he could recall in his career with the union and was not symptomatic of any issues with local club rugby.
“Having spoken with the referee and officials of both clubs I am satisfied that what occurred was isolated and unexpected – I am grateful for the quick actions of the offending player’s teammates and the support offered by both clubs,” Reisima said.
“I am sure the referee will not be deterred by this isolated incident despite the seriousness and hopeful that it will form part of his scrapbook in what will be a lengthy career.”
Blakeway was quickly offered support from both teams and referee colleagues who were on the sideline.
Both teams were in praise of the referee for his overall handling of the game and were in shock at what they had witnessed.
Ian Dallas, chairman of the Wellington Rugby Referees Association, said Blakeway appeared to be okay after the experience.
“He wasn’t hurt physically and at this stage he appears okay mentally.
“I’ll be checking in with him [Sunday] from our perspective.”
Exchanges are a big part of any aspiring rugby referee’s career and Dallas said it was unfortunate Blakeway had been involved in such an incident.
“He’s a young ref working through his training and we thought sending him to Wairarapa would be perfect for his progression.
“Obviously we’re very disappointed with what happened and we understand everybody is very embarrassed about it all, but it was a real show of strength that he was able to carry on.”
He said they understood it was an isolated incident and would not stop them from sending referees to Wairarapa in the future.
Wairarapa-Bush chief executive Tony Hargood said the union was “very disappointed” in what happened.
“His refereeing associates and both clubs offered him support and I’ve been in contact with him and he seems to be in good spirits.
“We will not be making any further comment until the judicial process is completed.”
Terry O’Brien of the Marist Rugby Football Club said it was something the club did not condone.
“All due processes are in place at present – obviously it will go to the judiciary.
“We talked to the referee at halftime and said to him we’d be happy for him to call the game off, but that’s all I can comment on at this stage.”
A Tuhirangi player who was playing in the match said things had escalated quickly.
“[The Marist player] got carded for punching our lock, then just opened up on the ref.
“He got two shots in but it was shut down pretty quickly.”
The Marist player had apparently been with the club for a few years and had no previous record of any behaviour of this nature.