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Kelston MP: Rugby brawl sentences unjust

By Stuart Dye

Members of the Kelston Boys 1st XV leave Eden Park after the rugby union hearing. Photo / Dean Purcell
Members of the Kelston Boys 1st XV leave Eden Park after the rugby union hearing. Photo / Dean Purcell

Labour MP David Cunliffe has hit out at the suspensions handed down to Kelston's rugby brawlers, asking why "the 'least guilty' Kelston boy received a sentence six to seven times longer than the 'guiltiest' Grammar boy."

The brawl at the match between Auckland Grammar and Kelston Boys High School resulted in four Grammar and five Kelston players being suspended for varying lengths of time.

Kelston's students suffered bans ranging from 10 to 16 months, in a decision given in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Four Auckland Grammar students received six-week bans for their part in last Saturday's fight.

The New Lynn MP, whose electorate includes Kelston Boys High School, wants to know why Kelston's penalty was so much tougher when "both teams were widely involved in the melee".

"There is no excuse for brawling on the rugby field, but it takes two to tangle," Mr Cunliffe said.

"So why did the 'least guilty' Kelston boy get a sentence far greater then the worst offender in the Auckland Grammar side?"

Mr Cunliffe's remarks echoed those of two All Black greats who yesterday questioned the fairness of the punishments.

The Auckland Rugby Union's disciplinary committee is facing a growing backlash over the sentences and the difference in the penalties imposed on the two schools.

Former All Black winger Va'aiga "Inga" Tuigamala - a Kelston Boys High School old boy - said the disciplinary system had failed.

"You talk about being fair and transparent - it takes two to tango.

"These are young men learning how to be competitive on the field. I'm not excusing what happened, but the punishments will tarnish their reputations for life," Tuigamala said.


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Tuigamala, who works with former Manu Samoa player To'o Vaega, father of the Kelston 1st XV captain, said it was difficult to feel there was any justice.

"I'm befuddled. On what basis have they made this judgment? I don't think the committee has thought it through. I'm appalled by it."

He said members of the Vaega family were bitterly disappointed.

Former All Black flanker Michael Jones said the committee had to explain how it arrived at its decision.

"On the one hand you have a very severe punishment, and on the other a very lenient punishment.

"This has not gone down well from the outside looking in and communities need the justification."

The disciplinary committee delivered its decision after spending more than 10 hours deliberating.

Jones said disciplinary action was needed, but he questioned its severity.

"If they were looking for fall guys [for bad behaviour in rugby] then it needed to happen a long time ago and to those at a higher level who these boys look up to."

Kelston principal Steve Watt said the school was considering appealing against the bans and was "reviewing the options" open to it.

"Some decisions will be made after the weekend," he said.

Auckland Grammar headmaster John Morris indicated after the hearing that some students from his school could face further internal discipline.

He did not return calls yesterday, but wrote on the school's website that he had watched the video of the incident frame-by-frame.

"I am even more sickened by the level of violence I observed - it literally turned my stomach. There are no innocent parties in this.

"Some of our boys have to take responsibility for responding most inappropriately, regardless of which team started the fracas."

The suspended players have seven days from the time of the judgment to appeal against their sentences.

A member of the disciplinary committee, former detective senior sergeant Neil Grimstone, said last night that the bans were tailored to individual players depending on their rugby commitments.

"We were privy to a lot of things that are not in the public domain," he told TV One's Close Up programme.

"We've made our decisions on video footage other people have not seen."

DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE
* Sarah-Jane Neville - lawyer for Ellis Gould.
* Peter Hackshaw - detective.
* Neil Grimstone - former detective senior sergeant.
* Barry Sharp - rugby referee.

SIN BIN

How high-profile cases compare:
* 0 weeks - Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu for spear-tackling Brian O'Driscoll.
* 6 weeks - Four Auckland Grammar 1st XV players.
* 8 weeks - Schalk Burger for gouging Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald.
* 6 months - New Zealand-born Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley for gouging three different players in 2007.
* 9 months - Richard Loe for eye-gouging fellow All Black Greg Cooper in 1992.
* 10-16 months - Five Kelston Boys High 1st XV players.
* 18 months - Johan Le Roux for biting All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick's ear during South Africa's 1995 tour.
* 2 years - Wendell Sailor for testing positive for cocaine in 2004.
* 3 years - Harlequins coach Dean Richards for the 'Bloodgate' scandal.
* 14 years (in prison) - French player Marc Cecillion for the 2004 murder of his wife.

- with NEWSTALK ZB, NZ HERALD STAFF

- NZ Herald

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