Players say sorry over handbag incident

By Jarrod Booker

Former All Black captain Tana Umaga and present All Black Chris Masoe may find out today if they will be punished over the handbag incident in a Christchurch pub.

The Hurricanes rugby franchise yesterday confirmed a Herald report that Masoe had been involved in an "altercation" with a bar patron after Masoe tripped over the man's foot.

The patron, who asked not to be named, told the Herald Masoe threw a punch at him while he stood at the bar.

The franchise also confirmed that Umaga subsequently intervened and struck Masoe with a patron's handbag, causing a cellphone in the bag to break.

The incidents occurred in The Jolly Poacher tavern between 6.30am and 8am on Sunday, witnesses told the Herald.

The Hurricanes management, in conjunction with the New Zealand Rugby Union - which employs the two players - yesterday launched an investigation into the incident.

It must first be determined if the players are guilty of ordinary or serious misconduct, and if so, they could face penalties ranging from a written warning to a fine, to termination of their playing contracts with the New Zealand Rugby Union.

Hurricanes chief executive Malcolm Holmes said it was anticipated that the investigation would be concluded today.

"Numerous reports are now in circulation which have provided various accounts about the incident," Mr Holmes said.

"Both players apologise for any actions that may have caused offence to be taken and they regret that the incident occurred."

Neither Masoe or Umaga were available for comment. Umaga's manager Rob Brady also declined to comment.

Masoe's manager Bruce Sharroch said the worst-case scenario for his client was termination of contract, which "would be a real shame given what took place".

The patron allegedly hit by Masoe yesterday told the Herald he did not want to see the player lose his contract or severely punished. He even had some sympathy for Masoe. "Everything [professional rugby players] do is in the limelight. You feel sorry for these guys in a way. But you can't just go around hitting people, for sure."

The woman whose handbag was used in the incident was waiting on a call from Umaga or his agent yesterday. She expects to have her broken cellphone replaced today.

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