Dunning's brother attacked

2007-07-11 09:49

Sydney - The younger brother of Wallabies star Matt Dunning was hospitalised after a vicious fight during Sunday's Shute Shield elimination final between Eastwood and Warringah, and one of Australia's most promising props, Salesi Ma'afu, faces an eight-week ban over the incident.

Witnesses described the fight as an "horrific attack on a defenceless player" amid claims the 124kg Ma'afu punched Eastwood's Josh Dunning up to 16 times while his hands were held behind his back by Warringah's Matt Clarke.

From all accounts, it is believed that Clarke did not intentionally hold Dunning's hands so he could be hit - the wing raced in to stop the fight and inadvertently restricted the replacement loose forward's defences.

But several people who saw the fight lashed out at Ma'afu, who they believe "lost control".

Dunning's parents, John and Chris, were at the ground and witnessed the incident, which saw their son suffer a fractured eye socket.

Matt said his youngest brother was "upbeat" last night despite his serious injury.

Ma'afu, who played for Australia 'A' last month and is a member of the Brumbies' Super 14 team, faces charges of "punching or striking" and the Herald understands he may be outed for at least two months by the NSW Rugby Union judiciary tonight.

Josh Dunning, 22, was charged with the same offence but his blows are widely viewed to have been defensive only.

No video footage

Clarke faces a charge of "acts contrary to good sportsmanship" but if either he or Dunning is penalised, it won't be for nearly as long as Ma'afu.

The fight took place midway through the second half near the middle of the field. There is no video footage of the incident because a try was being scored at the same time and the camera followed play.

One witness, an Eastwood fan who did not wish to be named, said: "It was one of the worst things I have ever seen, it was a brutal assault.

"The Eastwood player had his jersey over his head and couldn't fight back, and the Warringah player hit him, I don't know how many times but it was much more than 10 times, and the Eastwood player was certainly defenceless.

"It was a flurry to the head. It started to get sickening because the punches were unending and nobody was stopping it.

"I was pretty shaken up by it and I heard other people talking about it as I left the ground. The Eastwood player had blood all over his face, he took his headgear off and he had a deep gash under his left eye. The Warringah prop punched him so much that after the fight he had to have his hand strapped."

Another witness said: "I don't think the other Warringah player was trying to hold Josh's arms behind his back intentionally, he came in to stop it and just grabbed the Eastwood player. But Ma'afu would have hit Josh 15 or 16 times without reply.

"His father showed a great amount of restraint not to go on the field. I don't know if I could have done the same if it had been my son, but he did absolutely the right thing because otherwise the situation would have escalated."

Alarming accounts

Matt Dunning said Josh would learn in the next few days if he required surgery. "He is a pretty upbeat bloke and he is downplaying it," Matt said. "He doesn't look that good. He saw a specialist... part of his eye muscle has gone into his nasal cavity. We won't know until the swelling goes down if he needs surgery."

Despite the alarming accounts by spectators, Ma'afu was not sent off. He and Dunning were sin-binned, and Warringah general manager Mark Dickens said that was as far as the matter should have gone.

"The matter was handled on the field. The referee and a touch judge decided that both players should be sent to the sin-bin," he said. "There is no such thing as a good fight and a bad fight. Just because more punches were thrown, does it make it any worse than if one punch was thrown and a bloke goes down?

"I hope emotion is taken out of this debate. There is no video evidence to suggest his jersey was pulled over his head or he was defenceless.

"Salesi is a gentleman. You will not meet a more nice-natured guy. He is very highly thought of as a player by his peers."

The referee, Dan Cheever, and two touch judges did not report the incident, but fourth and fifth match officials lodged reports. NSWRU chief Fraser Neill then used his executive powers to cite the three players.

Neill said he took action after reading the official reports and receiving a raft of letters and emails from angry fans. "We take these events extremely seriously and hence our decision," he said.