20 Aug 2009

Jones wants explanation over brawl suspensions

10:14 pm on 20 August 2009

Former All Black Michael Jones wants an explanation as to why members of one school team involved in a rugby brawl have been given longer suspensions than the other.

As many as 2,500 people witnessed the fight in the final minutes of the semifinal match between Auckland Grammar and Kelston Boys' High last Saturday. About 50 people, including spectators, were caught up in the incident.

Auckland Grammar blamed a Kelston player for starting the fight, while Kelston blamed Auckland Grammar for a lack of crowd control.

Following a disciplinary hearing this week, an Auckland Rugby Union disciplinary committee suspended four players from Auckland Grammar for up to six weeks.

However, five players from Kelston have been suspended for periods ranging between 10 months and 16 months.

Jones says eyebrows have been raised in the West Auckland community over the suspensions and the Auckland Rugby Union needs to explain why there is such a disparity.

He believes students who received longer suspensions should consider appealing against the decision.

However, Jones says he is not condoning the on-field brawl and hopes the incident has sent a message that violence in sport is not acceptable.

Disciplinary committee chairwoman Sarah-Jane Neville says the teams will not be sanctioned because of the severity of the penalties imposed on individuals.

Ms Neville says the suspensions will have a severe impact on the players and the Auckland Grammar team in particular - it is playing in this weekend's First XV secondary schools final.

The committee says players who punched others got tougher sentences than those who just pushed. Many of the players are said to have been in tears after hearing the verdict.

The Auckland Rugby Union says the suspensions should serve as a warning that violence will not be tolerated. Chief executive Andy Dalton says that, until the weekend, both teams had enjoyed a good season, with no breaches for violence.

Reaction from schools

Kelston principal Steve Watt says his players' punishments are particularly harsh compared with those imposed on Auckland Grammar students.

Mr Watt says he is stunned by the punishment and the players concerned are distraught.

He says he acknowledges his players behaved inappropriately, but says he is struggling to understand why his school's punishment is so much more severe.

Auckland Grammar principal John Morris says the suspensions will greatly hurt the team's hopes for the final at the weekend.

Mr Morris says the whole situation has been very sad and incredibly embarrassing for the school.

Students have right of appeal

Wellington lawyer Matt McGoldrick says a judicial committee has undertaken a thorough investigation into the incident and students seeking an appeal may struggle to have their suspensions overturned or reduced.

Mr McGoldrick says those suspended have an immediate right of appeal to a provincial union appeal committee.

He believes some have been dealt with more harshly than others and there may be an argument for appealing over the disparity.

Players have two days to indicate if they will appeal.