A former ITM Cup rugby player has received a life ban from the code after punching a referee in the head at a game.
Whetu Barber received the ban from Waikato Rugby Union judiciary earlier tonight after punching referee Mark Ray while playing for Otorohanga against Morrinsville in a premier B fixture on Friday.
Barber was yellow-carded for elbowing a player and then red-carded for talking back to the referee.
He was leaving the field when he returned and punched the referee.
Waikato Rugby Union operations manager Bill Heslop said the judiciary decision was made after 35 minutes of discussion.
"A life ban is not taken lightly, but his history was taken in to consideration. He had a relatively poor history in the short time he has had with us.''
Mr Heslop said he was aware of life bans being given to players in similar cases to Barber's.
Barber was earlier given a life ban by the Otorohanga Sports Club board of management, after being found guilty of conduct unbecoming a member of the club. Otorohanga Sports Club Inc president Paul McConnell said Barber did not attend the hearing.
Barber is a former Hawke's Bay Magpies player and won the Tui Hawke's Bay Today Club Rugby Player of the Year award in 2011 and made three first-class appearances off the bench for the Magpies in 2010.
Mr McConnell was at the match, played in Morrinsville, where Barber was yellow-carded for elbowing a player and then red-carded for back chatting to the referee, before turning back to punch Mr Ray.
Spectators rushed on to the field, but police were not called and Mr Ray was able to continue the game, which was won 24-0 by Otorohanga.
Barber, a former MAC player, won the Tui Hawke's Bay Today Club Rugby Player of the Year award in 2011 and made three first-class appearances off the bench for the Magpies in 2010.
During the 2009 season he also played with Hastings Rugby and Sports, before he joined MAC.
Waikato Rugby Union operations manager Bill Heslop said the union was in complete support of the referee who is now undergoing medical treatment.
"He is concussed and is getting medical treatment, as well as physiotherapy on his neck because of the punch. He won't be able to referee this weekend because of his concussion," he said. "I'm struggling to find any reason why a player would punch a referee, there is no excuse for it and we are certainly supporting the referee completely."
He said Barber was not obliged to attend tonight's hearing and recalled only one similar incident in recent years when a player attacked a referee and was banned from all forms of rugby for two years.
- Additional reporting APNZ