The National, Tuesday July 16th, 2013
SIMBU Lions franchise owner Gerard Philip says Mt Hagen rugby league fans attacked their own players after two Eagles players punched and kicked prop James Gend.
According to Philip, who witnessed the incident on Sunday at Rebiamul oval, the spark that caused some fans to storm the field was most likely unneccessary rough and dirty tactics used by the Eagles after trailing 16-4 midway through the second half of the Digicel Cup Round 14 clash in Mt Hagen.
“The supporters did not come onto the field when Robert Dama scored as reported in the paper. They jumped over the 2-metre wire fence when they saw a Lions player being kicked and punched while on the ground,” Philip said.
“I don’t know if there was any antagonism towards the team (Eagles) before, and people were upset that they were not playing well but the Dama try was not the cause of the field invasion.”
The Kundiawa businessman said this happened around the 62nd minute when his player was attacked after a tackle on him.
“Our No.10, James Gend, was tackled by their No.13, and while he was on the ground, Eagles No.17 ran in with a swinging arm and hit him.
“The swinging arm by the No.17 was more like a punch, from the below coming up (upper cut). The other two players joined in and started hitting James.”
Philip said when his Lions players came in to assist their teammate they were also attacked.
“Our centre Mathew Puke was punched by their prop Otto Sam when he came in, and from there the fans just rushed onto the field,’ Philip said describing the scenes before Rebiamul was over-run by fans.
“I surprised to see the fans going straight for the Eagles players while they left us (Lions) alone. They made minced meat out of them, it was a sight, it was mayhem.”
After order was restored by team and match officials, both sides agreed tha play was no longer an option and the game was abandoned.
Meanwhile, there has been mixed reaction to Sunday’s incident from league followers in Mt Hagen.
Some labeled the attack on Eagles players as embarrassing and it showed a lack of respect for the game and the players.
League fan Nelson Sent from Dei district condemned the attack on the Eagles players.
“This is a hard, tough game and supporters need to remember that. Winning isn’t easy, even at home. Sometimes you will lose but the support must be there.
“I still can’t believe what happened,” Sent said.
“There is no respect for the game. How can we play sports in this province if the people are going to behave like this?”
Eagles backrower Francis Pengti was stunned at the reaction of the crowd.
“We were taken by surprise when people flooded in from every direction (and beat us). That was the worst. It was completely unexpected. There is no respect. The public was wrong to attack us,” Pengti said.
Attempts to get comments from the Eagles coaching staff and management were unsuccessful.