A speedy rugby star who chased down an escaping shoplifter told the crying thief that he'd made a "bad decision".

Hawke's Bay winger Ryan Tongia was having brunch with fellow Magpies players, halfback Chris Eaton and ex-All Black Zac Guildford, in Napier late yesterday morning when a thief ran out of a nearby clothing store.

A staff member was shouting after him and Brisbane-born Tongia reacted without thinking.

"It was a matter of either sit and watch, or react - and that's what I did, I just reacted. I wasn't trying to be a hero or anything," the Highlanders star said today.

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He chased the thief at top speed for about three blocks.

During the chase, he overtook two other pursuers.

When he ran the thief down, he grabbed him by his hoodie and made "what I guess you'd call a citizen's arrest".

Tongia admitted being worried that the shoplifter might've been aggressive or even armed.

But those fears were soon allayed when the captured thief started crying.

"I told the young man he'd made a bad decision and asked why he did it. He was kind of remorseful and said he did it for smokes. It just goes to show he has bad people around him."

Tongia grabbed the clothes and was going to let him go when the two other pursuers finally caught up.

They turned out to be off-duty police officers, Tongia said, who marched the thief back to the shop where he was arrested and taken away.

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Guildford and Eaton, who were still sore from playing in the ITM Cup at the weekend, were impressed by Tongia's actions.

"Tongia set off on his perfect running style like he was catching a ball," Guildford told TV3.

"It was pretty impressive to watch actually. I didn't realise how fast he was until [yesterday]."

Tongia was also a little surprised by his reactions.

But he was happy that he did step in.

"I love the Hawke's Bay. We're big in this community, being Magpies, it's a community that I am proud to be a part of and want to help keep safe, and I don't want anything like that going on," he said.

"The boys [teammates] have been very supportive. They said it was a good thing I did. Nobody does it to be a hero."