A Waikato rugby player set to play on the international stage has been given a discharge without conviction for assaulting his girlfriend in a move that’s saved his career.
Sevuloni Lasei Reece appeared in Hamilton District Court on Monday for sentencing on one count of male assaults female.
The 21-year-old Mooloos winger recently signed a contract with Irish club Connacht and was set to join the team following the conclusion of Waikato’s season next month.
That contract was in jeopardy if Reece was convicted on the charge that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail.
The incident happened around 1.30am on Sunday, July 1 – four weeks out from the end of the club rugby season.
Reece and his partner of two years, along with some associates, were out drinking in Hamilton’s central city when an argument erupted between the pair.
According to the police summary of facts, Reece told his girlfriend she needed to “shut up and listen to him”, in stronger words.
He was seen grabbing the victim and pulling her down on to the ground.
Reece was deterred by a nearby doorman who intervened. He was subsequently arrested.
The woman suffered injuries to her upper face, bruising to the left side of her waist and left knee.
“You told the police you didn’t remember the assault because of the level of intoxication,” Judge Denise Clark told the court.
This was the defendant’s first time before the courts.
Lawyer Mark Jepson applied to have his client given a discharge without conviction or a fine, saying a conviction would be disproportionate to the offending.
He said the court needed to consider whether any other person who wasn’t a professional rugby player would be facing consequences of this magnitude for the offending.
A letter from the head of operations for Connacht submitted in court documents said that a conviction would mean the contract was withdrawn.
The police prosecutor opposed a discharge without conviction, saying that it would not ultimately mean an end to his career.
“This is an episode of family harm that occurred in the public domain – this is offending that is being widely deplored in the community and significant money by the Government is being spent to tackle domestic violence,” police prosecutor Melanie Feist said.
Judge Clark took into account this was Reece’s first time before the courts, he had taken responsibility for the offending and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and was three months sober.
She noted the offending was in the mid-range and that he had offered emotional reparation.
He’d participated in restorative justice and was undergoing counselling with his partner, the second session of which was due to take place on Monday afternoon.
An Irish contract would help Reece provide for his family, she noted, and the club had a strict culture when it came to alcohol.
“It does appear to me the victim has forgiven you. You have acknowledged you have a problem with alcohol and have been sober for three months.”
Taking into account the mitigating factors, Judge Clark granted a discharge without conviction and fined him $750 to be paid within 28 days.
Reece has been in Chiefs development squads in recent years, but has never quite cracked Super Rugby since making his mark in his debut season with the Mooloos in 2016.
Originally from Fiji, Reece moved to New Zealand in 2014 on a scholarship to Hamilton Boys’ High School before getting called up to Waikato’s Mitre 10 Cup squad.
He was the youngest member of the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians side, who gave the British and Irish Lions a fright in last year’s tour opener in Whangarei, which the tourists won 13-7.
He is due to leave for Ireland next month.
Waikato Rugby Union chief executive Blair Foote said the union had started a misconduct process.
“Until that process is completed, we don’t really know what it’s going to look like,” Foote said.