All Black and Chiefs flanker Sione Lauaki has been ordered to undergo an anger management course after pleading guilty to trashing property at an Auckland motel in the early hours of New Year's Day.
The 27-year-old, who made his international debut in 2005, appeared in Auckland's Family Violence Court on Friday charged with intentionally damaging three windows and a TV at the Greenlane Motor Inn, opposite Ellerslie Racecourse.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs Super 14 franchise is standing by its loose forward through the next phase of the process - a New Zealand Rugby Union investigation.
"He's a tremendous part of our squad," chief executive Gary Dawson said.
"It's unfortunate this has happened, but we will certainly support him and do everything we can to help him through this."
Judge Elizabeth Aitken ordered Lauaki to complete a 20-week anger management course at Auckland's Man Alive Men's Centre.
He will reappear in April and if he can produce evidence he has started the course and paid the $700 damage bill, he will be "discharged without conviction", she said.
Lauaki, who is at least the 11th All Black to appear in a criminal court in the past five years, arrived at the motel with his girlfriend at 5.50am on New Year's Day and paid for a ground-floor unit.
Soon after staff heard raised voices and windows being smashed.
"He smelled like alcohol," said a motel source. "He had a disagreement with a female friend. They had only been in the room about five minutes."
The owner called police who sent three cars to the incident. The source said the Auckland resident, who is in pre-season training with the Chiefs in the Waikato, and his girlfriend were taken away in separate vehicles.
In February 2006 Lauaki was offered police diversion after admitting assaulting a Hamilton security officer.
Judge Aitken said the incidents were unrelated and a diversion meant the latest charge was his first.
She gave a clean-shaven Lauaki credit for his early guilty plea, age, and that he had started an alcohol programme through his sports team, paid reparation and had no previous convictions.
A discharge without conviction means he will maintain his clean record.
Judge Aitken told the court Lauaki was not getting "special treatment".
While owning up was a "very good first step", he needed to learn to "keep his temper under control".
Lauaki and his agent Bruce Sharrock wore smiles as they left the courtroom but both declined to comment.
His legal counsel successfully fought to prevent the Herald on Sunday taking photos of Lauaki in the dock.
Judge Aitken opposed the application on several grounds, including that Lauaki's parents were elderly and he didn't know if they understood what was going on.
The Chiefs played their first pre-season game yesterday afternoon against the Blues in Pukekohe. Dawson said Lauaki was sidelined with a "slight injury" but would not elaborate.
He said the judge's ruling was an "appropriate response" to Lauaki's offending and it was a relief to have a conclusion.
"From that point of view we can get on and do some positive things to support him.
"The New Zealand Rugby Union will now go through their own internal judicial process with Sione, so it's not completely over for him now."
The NZRU will take into account the seriousness of the incident and Lauaki's track record. It has a variety of options, including doing nothing, reprimanding Lauaki and terminating his contract.
Barristers Marie Dyhrberg and Karen Harding both told the Herald on Sunday Lauaki's penalty was appropriate and said people shouldn't underestimate how intensive and rehabilitative the anger management course would be.
Lauaki was the second All Black to appear in court within nine days.
Flanker Adam Thomson, 26, appeared in Hastings District Court on December 23 charged with assaulting his girlfriend, former television presenter Joanne Holley, at a Havelock North motel.
Thomson has not entered a plea and has been remanded on bail until January 29.
Lauaki has played 17 tests for the All Blacks since scoring 15 points in his debut against Fiji.