A rugby player has suffered a broken jaw amid a spate of alleged foul-play incidents, and physical and verbal abuse at Bay of Plenty games.
One referee "sick of copping abuse" has even refused to officiate a senior game following the alleged incidents.
Seventeen complaints of misconduct or foul play at games held at various age-group levels across the region over the past two weekends have been reported to the union.
In one on May 7, a Rangataua Premier team player allegedly elbowed a player from the opposing Te Puna team and that player suffered a broken jaw.
A complaint by a Te Puna Club representative, supported by witness statements, was upheld by the union's disciplinary officer at a hearing on May 13.
The accused player has been suspended for 12 weeks, including from sideline duties such as passing out water bottles to teammates.
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union community rugby manager Pat Rae said it was disappointing this was one of eight alleged "foul-play" incidents at games on May 7 and 8.
He said the cited player denied the complaint and told the officer he had put his hands up to try and block the ball and the Te Puna player ran into his elbow.
Rae said the player would have received a 15-week suspension but his previous good record was taken into account.
Rangataua Rugby Club's captain Aramahou Ririnui said the suspended player would appeal the union's ruling.
Te Puna club declined to comment.
Te Puna supporter Tommy Wilson said he was at the game and saw the Te Puna player get injured.
The player was "really struggling" and had to be helped from the field.
Rae said investigating this incident and the seven others from that weekend had consumed the time of three union staff for most of last week.
Other incidents included a game called off by the referee after 60 minutes because players from both teams were fighting in what initially looked like an "all-in brawl".
Rae said the union's investigation revealed the fighting broke out after a player from one team made a comment to an opposing team player about his dead relative.
Both clubs were fined $300 after they admitted being at fault.
Rae said four senior players were red-carded and suspended for four weeks for "striking or punching" during games over the same weekend.
The seventh incident involved a coach being stood down for three weeks after allegedly verbally abusing an opposing team player.
The eighth alleged incident involved a coach accused of allegedly physically abusing a referee during a game. The coach would appear for a disciplinary hearing.
"My overarching message to everybody is to just calm down and just enjoy the opportunity we have got to play and watch great rugby," Rae said.
"Don't be so angry and play fairly. There are people in far worse situations than us.
"We've only just come through the back end of the pandemic, and luckily we are not in lockdown."
Rae said the union treated these matters "very seriously" and foul play, whether on the field or from the sidelines, would not be tolerated.
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union referee manager Cam Russell agreed.
He said there were nine alleged foul-play and misconduct incidents in the region last weekend.
They included a parent allegedly verbally abusing a referee, alleged verbal abuse from coaches to referees and a coach accused of physically abusing opposition players.
Russell said six red cards were handed out at senior rugby games, including two for dangerous tackles, one for punching and one for the alleged physical and verbal abuse of a referee.
Disciplinary hearings were yet to be held for those nine alleged incidents, he said.
He said the number of incidents was "out of the box" and maybe happened once per season.
"It is concerning that we have had two such weekends consecutively, and even more concerning is the nature of these incidents.
"We have not only had physical referee abuse incidents for many years, and now we have two in two weeks, plus other verbal incidents, and many involving coaches," Russell said.
"Our first priority when we have allegations of referee abuse incidents is supporting the referee. However, we don't want to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff all the time.
"Everyone involved in the game and watching it needs to remember why the game exists, who it exists for and how it is played."
Russell said integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect were rugby's five core values.
"If everyone had a shred of each of those, all participants in the game would be able to enjoy it to its fullest. Calm down, take a breath and if you haven't got something nice to say, don't say anything at all."
Russell said these were Bay of Plenty-wide incidents and the situation had got to a point where a referee had declined to officiate at a game, saying he was "sick of copping abuse".
"I'm more than disappointed about all these complaints and I feel broken. Referees have a hard enough job controlling a game, without having to put up with abuse," Russell said.
Bay of Plenty Rugby's general manager Neil Alton said he was particularly disappointed with the complaints about the alleged misconduct by coaches against referees.
"We need all our coaches to act responsibly and ensure they are good role models for players and also those watching the game," Alton said.
"We work hard to encourage lots of people to participate in the game and these types of incidents... detract from them enjoying rugby and wanting to participate."
Bay of Plenty Rugby chairman of referees David Hodgson said the incidents had deterred young referees. He said two 16-year-olds had expressed interest in refereeing junior games but had changed their minds.
Hodgson said there would be no rugby games without volunteer referees.