Club rugby player admits injuring opponent in ‘disgraceful’ on-field brawl

A photograph of the brawl between Petone and Marist St Pats players on November 14, 2020.

Andrew McArthur/Stuff

A photograph of the brawl between Petone and Marist St Pats players on November 14, 2020.

A former Wellington club rugby player has admitted criminal responsibility for an on-field attack that left an opponent with severe facial injuries.

Iosefo Kalolo Aukusitino​​ pleaded guilty at the Hutt Valley District Court on Tuesday to one charge of injuring Petone player Ridge Studd with reckless disregard. He had originally been charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm but that charge was later downgraded.

The charge related to an incident which occurred during an Ambassador’s Sevens Tournament match between Petone, and Aukusitino’s club, Marist St Pats (MSP), at Upper Hutt’s Maidstone Park on November 14, 2020.

He will be sentenced on March 9, 2022. At Tuesday’s hearing, the 23-year-old’s lawyer Tim Castle​ said his client sought to have restorative justice meeting with the victim before then.

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Petone rugby player Ridge Studd chases down a Marist St Pats player. Studd subsequently suffered severe facial injuries after being attacked by Marist St Pats players.

Andrew McArthur/Stuff

Petone rugby player Ridge Studd chases down a Marist St Pats player. Studd subsequently suffered severe facial injuries after being attacked by Marist St Pats players.

In a statement released after the hearing, MSP chairman Rob Evans​ said the club deeply regretted the incident and the effect it had on the Studd family and the rugby community.

“We wholeheartedly apologise to Ridge Studd and his family for the injury and hurt caused.”

The incident prompted the club to look at it how it was operating. To prevent any similar incidents it had implemented a code of conduct for players and supporters, taken advice from the Rugby Union’s cultural and wellbeing programmes and focussed more on players’ wellbeing and values, Evans said.

MSP was also committed to ensuring coaches, managers, players and supporters were aware of, and followed, its rules and abided by its constitution, which centred on “the promotion and fostering of a spirit of union, good fellowship and racial, cultural and gender inclusivity among members”, he added.

“Marist St Pats does not and has never condoned violence of any sort on or off the rugby field orunder any circumstances. We are supporting Iosefo Aukusitino as he takes responsibility for his actions.

“MSP is a vibrant, volunteer and multicultural sports club. Many different communities take pride in our club and we are committed to ensuring that it remains a welcoming and positive place for all ethnicities, genders and ages.”

As well as any court-imposed sentence Aukusitino may face, he is banned from Wellington club rugby games for two years.

That penalty was imposed after a Wellington Rugby Football Union disciplinary committee hearing, which found Aukusitino had struck Studd “leading to serious and consequences to the health of the victim”.

Photos obtained by Stuff show Studd pinned to the ground as a fight broke out.

According to a report presented at the committee hearing, witnesses saw Studd “convulsing on the ground” in the wake of the brawl. He was hospitalised, suffered multiple fractures, required reconstructive facial surgery and was unable to work in the weeks after.

Wellington lawyer Gerard Dewar​, who chaired the hearing, labelled the attack “disgraceful”.

Aukusitino’s brother and teammate Sagele Aukusitino​ was suspended from club rugby for a year for his role in the attack.

Another brother of the pair, Patrick Aukusitino​, a spectator, was banned for two years for entering the field of play and striking Studd, while a third MSP player, Jeremiah Tuiatua​, was suspended for five matches for using force via a shoulder charge.

Studd was suspended for three matches for striking and retaliation.

MSP was also reprimanded, with a ban from the Ambassador’s Sevens Tournament for three years. The committee said at the time allowing the club to play in future tournaments was “potentially dangerous”.

CORRECTION: Iosefo Aukusitino pleaded guilty to a charge of injuring with reckless disregard. A previous version of this story incorrectly said Iosefo Aukusitino pleaded guilty to a charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. (Amended December 7, 2021 8.37pm).

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