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Kiwis reprimanded for brawl, Vunibaka banned

Saturday, May 20, 2017

THE New Zealand rugby sevens team escaped with a severe reprimand for their part in an ugly all-in brawl with Fiji at the 2002 round of the International Rugby Board (IRB) World Series circuit in Chile.

Fearing they could be fined, lose competition points or even be suspended from the series by the IRB for misconduct, New Zealand were simply cautioned and "severely reprimanded" by an IRB judicial hearing.

Fiji was censured for fighting with Samoa earlier in that tournament, and lost the 12 competition points gained at Santiago event.

However, Fiji's Canterbury and Crusaders wing Marika Vunibaka was banned from all rugby for 12 weeks after being cited for punching Amasio Valence.

The blow ignited a free-for-all soon after the final whistle of that Sunday's semi-final, won by New Zealand 19-17.

The ban, which expired on March 31, 2002 effectively meant Vunibaka missed the Crusaders' first five matches of the Super 12 campaign.

Vunibaka's ban was the maximum allowed under the tournament procedures and effectively ruled the wing out of the next five rounds of the sevens tournament had he not had Super 12 commitments.

The judicial hearing, headed by Chilean lawyer Mario Torres Skarpa, first considered punishments for the teams on that Monday with lengthy deliberations.

The teams moved on to Argentina for the third leg of the tournament in Mar del Plata that weekend.

The New Zealand Rugby Football Union were relieved at the outcome of the hering with then chief executive David Rutherford reiterating the team had been told by the union and management their conduct was unacceptable.

"Everyone understands how bad the incident was," he said.

Rutherford admitted Chris Masoe, who stomped on a Fijian player, was lucky not to be cited but added the NZRFU could not take any action against the player because he was not brought before the judiciary.

New Zealand, the reigning title holders, led the standings at that point with 40 points ahead of Samoa and South Africa who were tied for second on 24.

New Zealand won the first two rounds.

The IRB also issued a directive to all unions, teams and players that misconduct would not be tolerated.

It would also review the tournament's independent judicial process and consider the possible introduction of stiffer penalties.

The incident did not affect the New Zealand team's chances of winning the sports team of the year award at the 2002 Halberg Awards.

Halberg Trust executive director Dave Currie said the fight "was obviously a bit nasty" but the awards were judged on the last calendar year.

"The awards are about performance and how people conduct themselves, but it would have to be extraordinarily serious and pretty grim to have an impact on the awards," he said.

The sevens team is up against the women's double and quadruple scull rowing team plus the Tall Blacks men's basketball team.

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