A rugby player in the Bay of Plenty has been handed a 52-week suspension after an incident the referee for that match described as "the most ugly piece of foul play" he had seen.
In a statement released today, the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union said a ball carrier in a game last weekend was struck in the face by a would-be tackler with a "sickening swinging arm tackle" which saw the ball carrier knocked out before he hit the ground.
The referee involved said it was the most ugly piece of foul play he had witnessed in his 12 years of officiating.
The injured player had to be airlifted to the hospital with a suspected fractured cheek bone.
In another incident at the weekend, a misconduct charge was brought against a senior player who verbally swore and abused a referee after the full-time whistle.
That player has been suspended for 34 weeks.
These incidents were part of a weekend full of ill-discipline in rugby throughout the Bay of Plenty.
In total, there were 11 red cards and one sighting shown throughout school and club rugby matches in the Bay of Plenty Rugby region.
All cases are heard by the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union's Disciplinary Committee, made up of community-based volunteers, with a vast and extensive rugby pedigree.
Community rugby manager Pat Rae, who has worked at Bay of Plenty Rugby since 2015, said he could not remember a ban as long as 52-weeks being handed out.
"I'm comfortable to say that had I seen the incident described in the red card report, it would've been the worst piece of foul play I'd ever seen on a rugby field.
"When you're swinging a stiff arm, clocking the guy on the side of the face, and he's unconscious before he hits the ground - that's bad," he said.
"In a weekend where there were 74 games of rugby held across the region, from Under-11 to premier men's and everything in between, it's a shame that a handful of games had really poor player behaviour.
"Punching, stomping, shoulder charging, dangerous tackles and referee abuse offences are all deliberate acts that require a conscious effort on the part of the player to be committed. These are all totally avoidable."
"It was such a busy week last week for our Disciplinary Committee, we had to bring in more volunteers and hold multiple hearings across three consecutive nights in order to hear them all before the players' next matches."
Rae said the maximum length of time a player could be banned from playing rugby, according to New Zealand Rugby laws, was a lifetime ban reserved for the physical assault of a referee.
Other ban lengths included 260 weeks for using threatening actions or words towards match officials; 208 weeks for grabbing, twisting or squeezing the genitals, intentional contact with the eyes or biting; and 104 weeks for striking with the head.
Meanwhile, the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union is trialling a new way of dealing with disciplinary matters in the junior and secondary school space.
Based on the restorative justice principles, where tamariki and rangatahi admit their behaviour as detailed in the referees report, the matter is then referred to a Whānau Group Conference involving the player, his whānau, the referee and coaches, managers and school teachers in charge.
The purpose of these conferences is to ensure that the player accepts responsibility for the actions on the field, and suitable actions or tasks are put in place where the player can learn.
"It's only early days but there have been some interesting outcomes so far," Rae said.
"The players have been far more willing to be held responsible for their behaviour and they have also self-imposed voluntary stand-downs.
"The really cool aspect though has been how the players have problem solved the reasons behind their offending and have come up with strategies to learn how to become better players."
Where other players were involved, letters of apology were mandatory, he said.
"Verbal apologies to their teammates for letting them down are also non-negotiable and with everyone having phones, these apologies are filmed in order to give them a sense of importance.
"Other self-imposed penalties have included washing the jerseys, setting up the fields, cleaning the change rooms, to running touch in the matches that they voluntarily stand themselves down."
"We have gained New Zealand Rugby permission to borrow this process from the Canterbury Rugby Union. I was impressed with their re-offending statistics being so low hence the reason why we've introduced it here."