Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

I'll be back out there, says ref punched at school rugby game

Witnesses said a brawl erupted at the end of the game. Photo / Thinkstock
Witnesses said a brawl erupted at the end of the game. Photo / Thinkstock

A 17-year-old rugby referee punched in the face at the end of a schoolboy rugby match says he is shocked how quickly the incident escalated - but will not let a fight intimidate him.

Witnesses said a brawl erupted at the end of the game between Auckland Grammar School and De La Salle College's 2B grade teams on Saturday after Auckland Grammar won 6-5.

Police and the Auckland Rugby Referees' Association are investigating the incident.

The young referee, who did not want to be named, said tension was high at the secondary schools rugby final at Tamaki College but there was no warning that spectators would rush on to the field at the end of the match.

"I was expecting a few people not to be happy of course, because they lost, but I didn't expect it to escalate to what it did. It was a bit of a shock."

He said he didn't see the attack coming.

"I was walking off the field back towards the guys waiting on the sideline and I turned and there it came."

He said the punch was deflected a bit by his arm, but it still caught him on the left side of his head.

"I took one little glance, but then scurried off the field as fast as I could."

He said the assault hadn't put him off refereeing.

"I'll be back out there. It was an experience and something I'll be wary of, but I'm pretty passionate about refereeing so I'll be keen to keep going."

Angela Fahey, whose son played for Auckland Grammar, said the behaviour of the De La Salle players deteriorated in the final 10 minutes of the game.

"The spectators were shouting abuse which also helped incite what we could see was heading to a very bad outcome."

As soon as the final whistle blew, the De La Salle team "raced" towards the other team.

"My boy was hit twice in the face."

Spectators also took to the field, she said.

Ms Fahey said she saw the attack on the referee and said it came from a player. De La Salle players fought each other as some tried to stop the fight.

Witness Brett Arthur, who is also a rugby referee, said he had never seen such behaviour at a match.

He said about 50 parents and supporters of the De La Salle team charged the pitch after the final whistle.

"They were pelting them [referees and Auckland Grammar players] with bottles and anything they could get their hands on. It was like nothing that I'd ever seen before."

De La Salle principal Myles Hogarty said the school was conducting a thorough investigation.

Auckland Rugby Referees' Association chairman Don Crawford said he had spoken to both schools yesterday but would not comment further until the investigation was finished.

Auckland Grammar School principal John Morris said his team's coach, Mark Vella, did a great job in separating the players from the violence.

- APNZ

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