Wellington Rugby Football Union (WRFU) officials have banned a spectator from the game for five years after he ran on to a pitch and knocked out a player during a grade match last weekend. The attack, the second such incident in Wellington club rugby inside a week, occurred during an under-85kg match between Johnsonville and Hutt Old Boys Marist.
Witnesses said the incident occurred after a scuffle between players escalated when a Johnsonville replacement went on to the field. The spectator followed the replacement on to the pitch and punched a Johnsonville player. The referee called the game off.
WRFU amateur rugby manager Will Caccia-Birch said the spectator had been drinking, telling Fairfax Media in New Zealand that the man had been barred from attending or playing in any rugby match run by Wellington Rugby for five years. Caccia-Birch said the spectator would still be able to attend All Blacks matches because those fixtures were staged by New Zealand Rugby.
Hutt Old Boys Marist chairman John Sheehan supported the five-year ban, describing the spectator as "a friend of a friend of a player … he's part of the lunatic fringe that is associated with any sport".
WRFU chairman Peter Scott described the incident as "very disappointing", especially as it was the second incident in a week in which a spectator had gone on to the field in a Wellington club rugby fixture and become involved in a skirmish. Another spectator was handed a six-week playing ban after invading the field and starting a scuffle during a match between Paremata-Plimmerton and Poneke at Ngatitoa Domain on June 14.
Scott said the union now was working with all Wellington clubs to ensure the safety of players, officials and spectators.
"We find these recent incidents completely unacceptable," he said. "We need to ensure the playing enclosure is roped for all premier games, with a dedicated ground manager in place, while clubs also need to maintain awareness of their liquor licensing requirements to ensure the safety of all patrons."