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A top Waikato rugby club has been split over a decision not to reprimand a coach who assaulted two club members in a bar fracas.
One of the victims of the assault, who was suffering from prostate cancer at the time, said the move sends a poor message for club members, while the other victim claims he was booted from Hautapu Sports Club Inc for pushing for premier team coach Craig Stevenson to be reprimanded.
But president Benjamin Sinclair believes the club took the right action.
READ MORE: Former Chiefs player on assault charges
Stevenson played provincial rugby for Waikato from 1991 to 1996 and was part of the inaugural Chiefs team in 1996 and later assistant coach for the franchise.
He is captured in footage of the December 14, 2017 incident at a Cambridge bar punching committee members Mike Cochrane and Mike Margan after words were exchanged between Stevenson and others.
Stevenson was charged with assault and was last week granted diversion at the Hamilton District Court after pleading guilty.
Stevenson said he regretted his actions and alcohol played a part in the attack.
“I’m really remorseful. It was a really silly thing to do,” he said.
“I’ve obviously apologised to the people involved and gone through a process with them.”
Stevenson believed that he had paid the price for his offending and had given back to the community.
“I mean I was Father Christmas in a Christmas Parade. It’s (the assault) out of character and I’m really disappointed. I wish it had never had happened,” he said.
“And I guess the learning for me is that I wish I could take it back and unfortunately people lose control and that’s certainly what happened in that split couple of seconds of time.”
Stevenson said he had a round of counselling for alcohol and anger after the incident, which he found useful.
“Yep, I’ve made a massive mistake which I’ve paid the price for and I just want to make sure that the future is a positive place for everyone to be and if I could help other young men and women within my sporting opportunities then some positives have actually come out of it.”
But both Margan and Cochrane disagree, saying they paid a high price for the incident.
Cochrane, who was club captain, has been dismissed from the club in a bitter stoush that saw both he and the club get lawyers involved.
Cochrane believes his move to have Stevenson sacked as head coach after the attack is what led to his dismissal. The club would not comment on what was behind the move.
“There was a special committee meeting called where the assault was discussed. They gave us an assurance there will be some form of sanctions imposed on Craig,” he said.
“We weren’t happy about that obviously. I met with a few club members to come up with some club sanctions if he was to remain.
“We requested that he shouldn’t be permitted to drink alcohol at the bar this season. We’d asked them that he not be used as a role model – we have a lot of young players in the club and we didn’t feel that he should be used for public speaking or presentations, because he wasn’t somebody that should be held up as a role model for these young guys.
“We thought they were reasonable, but the full committee didn’t believe so. They said the correct thing to do is to ask Craig to apologise and we said OK, and asked about the other sanctions. They said that’s it, that’s all that is required.”
The club attempted to have Cochrane formally disciplined but when Cochrane’s lawyer challenged the move as unconstitutional it was dropped.
At an AGM two weeks ago the committee canned the the club captain position which had been officially disestablished in 2006 but continued to be filled. The move left Cochrane without a role in the club.
President Sinclair refused to be interviewed, instead issuing a statement: “The committee of Hautapu Sports Club Inc has always made its decisions based on the best interests of the club and has no further comment to make”.
Margan, who had cancer at the time of the incident is now cancer free and described the entire saga as a sick joke.
“I had prostate cancer and I was needing to work right through Christmas and New Year because I knew I had to have time off to recuperate. So to be injured like that, it wasn’t ideal,” he said.
“I had a month off work. I was taken to hospital the next morning because I was in lala land with a concussion, the side of my mouth was cut and bleeding. I was in hospital for six hours for observation.”
Margan who has been on the committee for 20 years said the issue has affected the entire club, with members venting on social media after the recent AGM.
“It really has split the club. A strong club at that.”
Cochrane said he was appalled at how the club handled the incident.
“I really thought the right thing would be done but it didn’t turn out that way,” he said.
“It hurts. I spent nearly every waking minute at the club. What am I going to do with my time now.”