It has attracted criticism, but the Wellington Rugby Union say they are "delighted" with the publicity their video campaign targeting sideline abuse starring a disguised All Black Victor Vito has received.

Loose forward Vito, plus Wellington teammates Jason Woodward, Reggie Goodes and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, were filmed officiating at an under-13 boys' match between Petone and Avalon as "Undercover Refs" to expose some of the behaviour prevalent on sidelines in the capital and the rest of New Zealand.

Following the release of the short film, it transpired some of those on the sideline were actors, but Wellington Rugby Union head of community rugby Will Caccia-Birch said he was "comfortable" with how it was produced, saying the controversy generated by what some critics have described as a "deceit" could in fact be helpful in the long term.

"There was a staging element to it but there was still a game of rugby that we were filming. It wasn't totally staged," Caccia-Birch said. "The main aim was to raise awareness of some sideline behaviour and referee abuse; to endeavour to get people talking about it in a bid to raise a collective responsibility. To that end, we are delighted."


One outspoken critic has been a Wellington-based PR agency keen to generate some publicity of its own, but asked if he was disappointed that there was an apparent attempt to undermine the campaign, Caccia-Birch said: "Everybody has their own view and we have to respect that. Overwhelmingly, the feedback and messages have been positive. We will focus on the positive."

Caccia-Birch confirmed that all the parents on the sideline at the match were briefed on the campaign and signed a waiver to allow their children to be filmed.

The children were unaware the match officials were famous players, but it's understood some of them worked it out during the game. Regardless, Vito, wearing a wig, sunglasses and moustache, said afterwards he was surprised by some of the negative comments directed by the young players towards him, ostensibly a middle-aged man giving up his time on a Saturday.

Caccia-Birch said it wasn't one incident in particular which had prompted the campaign, rather a series of bad behaviour over recent years.

"It's been an ongoing issue. We felt it was time to put a stake in the ground and try to do something about it in an innovative way to see if it would make a difference."

Asked about the impact of the star power generated by Vito and his mates, Caccia-Birch added: "They are role models both on and off the field, but so are parents and other spectators who turn up to watch. How they behave on the sideline can transfer to the kids on the field."