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10-year ban for ref attack

PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Serious offending warranted strong response – judiciary chief

JAKE BELESKI
[email protected]

Marist rugby player Sautia Lemalu has been handed a 10-year ban for striking a referee twice during a senior reserve match last weekend.

The incident happened just before halftime during Marist’s match against Tuhirangi at Memorial Park in Masterton, and the punishment was determined at Wednesday night’s judicial hearing.

He will have seven days to appeal the decision.

The assault occurred after Alex Blakeway – an 18-year-old referee from Wellington – had red-carded Lemalu for punching an opposition player.

Lemalu, aged in his mid-20s, was remorseful and apologised for his actions at the hearing.

Judiciary chairman Kevin Tunnell said Lemalu’s actions were at the most serious end of offending that could happen on a rugby field and warranted a strong response.

Wairarapa-Bush chief executive Tony Hargood said it was extremely disappointing that the incident happened, and the severity of the ban was a reflection of how the union did not tolerate any form of abuse towards referees.

“The referees are an integral part of our community rugby and we are very fortunate to have 40 active referees.

“We also commend Alex Blakeway in the way he has handled the matter and we hope Alex will continue to be part of the referee exchange system with Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Referees Association in the future.”

Hargood said the union would not tolerate any sort of misconduct that brought the game into disrepute.

“This is disappointing to have such an isolated incident happen and we thank everyone involved in their support for Alex.”

Terry O’Brien of the Marist Rugby Football Club said nothing had changed from the club’s perspective – they simply did not condone that sort of behaviour.

“While it’s still under the appeal period we’ve got no further comment to make.

“He hasn’t decided he will appeal but he probably will – we have no further comment at this stage.”

Ian Dallas, chairman of the Wellington Rugby Referees Association, said he was pleased with the judicial process and outcome.

“It’s an unfortunate thing for rugby overall, but at the end of the day, the message had to be sent that this kind of behaviour is just not acceptable.

“Although the starting point could have been probably much harsher, all the things about him as a person and a player were taken into account.

“It’s a long time for a young person, but unfortunately he did what he did, and it’s just unacceptable.”

He praised Blakeway for his handling of the incident and the events that followed, and said the young ref was already eager to return to refereeing duties.

“He’s very philosophical and worked through it himself, and he’s in a good space and looking forward to refereeing his next game.

“He wants to be straight back on the back of the horse – he doesn’t have an issue with it at all in that regard.”

Dallas was aware the decision could be appealed, but said the issue was dealt with from their point of view and Blakeway would not be pressing charges.

“That’s just the judicial process, so as far as we’re concerned we aren’t worried about that at all.

“Alex does not want to get involved any more than he has done . . . from our point of view, we wanted to see a result for rugby and we’ve got that.”

Former Masterton mayor and ex-international rugby referee Bob Francis said the penalty was “substantial”, but appropriate given the circumstances.

“It could effectively be a life ban.

“I think it’s a very strong signal that that sort of conduct is totally unacceptable in the game and it’s showing really strong support for the referee, which I think we’ve all got to applaud.”

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