The referee who called off the second abandoned Northland division one rugby game in two weeks is calling for clubs to take ownership.
Northland Rugby Union (NRU) head strength and conditioning coach Hugh Slobbe officiated the Bayleys south zone championship fixture on Friday, April 5 between Dargaville Old Boys and Mangakahia.
In what was only his 10th game as a referee, Slobbe was thrust into a confronting situation when the atmosphere between the two sides became nasty. After Mangakahia had dominated the first half, the Dargaville side became frustrated, which wasn't helped when a Mangakahia player was yellow-carded for a no-arms tackle on a Dargaville player.
With about 20 minutes to go and tensions high, Mangakahia were leading by about 50 points and after having just scored, a Dargaville player struck a Mangakahia player in the face, "a cheap shot" as described by Slobbe and the offending player was red-carded.
"From that point, Dargaville weren't really there to play footy from their body language and verbal stuff," Slobbe said.
Slobbe was then approached by the Mangakahia captain who expressed a concern for his players' safety and Slobbe decided to call the game off to prevent the situation from escalating and more red cards being given.
"[I said to the coaches] 'I can carry on playing the game and you guys can get more cards and you guys won't be able to field a team next week, or I can call the game off now and you can shake hands' and they were understanding about that," Slobbe said.
An independent judicial hearing reviewed the incident on Wednesday. NRU confirmed no points were taken from either team but both clubs were issued with warnings in case of a repeat offence. Mangakahia won the game 59-10.
This came two weeks after a Division One game between Mid Western and Whangaruru on March 22 was called off after 62 minutes due to too many infringements being made by both teams. Slobbe was not the referee in this game.
Slobbe said the behaviour in this latest match shouldn't be a part of rugby and felt clubs needed to do more to stop these incidents from happening.
"I've been around rugby for a long time and I've seen this situation happen before, the question is how to deal with it.
"It's a tough one because we want to grow the game of rugby, the clubs needed to take ownership for this kind of stuff."
Slobbe encouraged clubs who might have a history of this kind of behaviour to take on board the NRU code of conduct and integrate that in to the club's environment.
"No one wants a game to be called off because at the end of the day, we are here to play footy and if people are fearful for their safety then it's not footy.
"I love refereeing, you do it for the love of the game and you don't want to see that."
Slobbe said this incident was a good example of how referees needed to remain professional, not second-guess themselves and be up front with their decisions.
Northland Rugby Referee Association referee education officer Boris Jurlina said Slobbe made the right call to end the game early.
"When he's getting guys flying in from nowhere and trying to take cheap shots, it's a hard one for the referee because we never want to call it off but when it gets down to player safety, we have no other option."
Jurlina said the criteria for calling a game off early came down to foul play and player safety, such as a brawl between multiple players or continued foul play which brought players into an unsafe environment.
Jurlina said it was great to see a young referee like Slobbe have the courage to make the call to abandon the game.
"For him to have the confidence to do that is a good thing from our point of view, that he can make those decisions when needed.
"The over-arching factor is we are there for the safety of players and we take it pretty seriously."
Representatives from Mangakahia and Dargaville Old Boys could not be reached for comment.