An unbelievably one-sided Dunedin premier rugby game was ended in mercy yesterday in a 137-0 drubbing that one of New Zealand's greatest whistle-blowers suspects is a world first.
With the scoreboard operator kept furiously busy at Montecillo Park in Dunedin, dealing out numbers like a casino croupier, the sorry match was canned with 10 minutes left on the clock as Zingari Richmond floundered desperately against University A.
Conceding the equivalent of more than 19 converted tries without as much as a single point response, the referee apparently felt sorry for Zingari Richmond and wanted to put them out of their misery.
Blowing the final whistle after just 70 minutes, the man in charge couldn't watch any more and sent the red-faced group off for an early bath.
Former top test referee, Bob Francis, who two years ago was given a distinguished service gong by rugby's world governing body, said the scoreline was extraordinary.
And, he said, it appeared the match officials might have chucked the rule book out the window.
"I suspect that's a first in world rugby," Francis told the Herald on Sunday. "A mercy law definitely doesn't exist. The referee has gone well outside the rule book there."
World Rugby's laws of the game do not say anything about a so-called mercy rule or ending a match in sympathy.
Likewise, expert rugby commentator Keith Quinn couldn't recall a scoreline like it in club rugby either - and neither was he aware of a "mercy rule".
"I don't think it exists in the law book," Quinn told the Herald on Sunday.
"Human nature being what it is, it might have happened before when a referee is sympathetic to a team getting a hiding."
It was an embarrassing day for Zingari Richmond, a club with a rich rugby history.
All Blacks who have hailed from the club include Joe McDonnell, Duncan Robertson, Keith Murdoch, Red Conway, Norm Wilson, Rex Orr, Albert Procter, James Baird and Alex Paterson.
Other former notable players include former All Black selector Gordon Hunter, and former Otago Rugby Football Union chief executive John Hornbrook.
Its former coaches include Eric Watson - a former All Black coach - and Glenn Moore, current Blues assistant coach and former Highlanders and North Otago coach.
Neither club would comment last night.