Japan star Amanaki Mafi avoids conviction for assault on former teammate
The 29-year-old’s case was called into the Dunedin District Court on Tuesday in his absence where a guilty plea was entered to one count of assaulting former Wallabies loose forward Lopeti Timani with intent to injure.
Judge John MacDonald granted a discharge without conviction and stated that it should not be suggested that Mafi had “somehow bought [his] way out of a conviction”.
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The case stems from the night following the Melbourne Rebels’ 43-37 defeat at the hands of the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium on July 14 last year, in a loss which ended the Australian side’s hopes of qualifying for the Super Rugby play-offs.
Mafi and Timani, who grew up together in Tonga and were teammates at the Rebels, went to a South Dunedin home following the match, where the pair drank into the early hours of the morning with Mafi’s family members.
By 4am, the pair were intoxicated, and Mafi proceeded to challenge Timani to a fight after the 12-test Wallaby used what the 27-test Japan international believed to be an offensive word in front of a female relative.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 17, 2019
Both players scuffled before being separated by others in attendance, before Timani fled the scene in fear of his own safety.
He hid in bushes at the nearby Bathgate Park, but was found by Mafi, who repeatedly punched Timani in the head and “escorted” him into the back of an awaiting vehicle.
Timani eventually escaped the four-hour ordeal after managing to flee the vehicle while it was stopped at a traffic light.
Photos which revealed the extent of Timani’s injuries surfaced in Australian media shortly afterward, with the 29-year-old telling the Sydney Morning Herald last year that he thought he was “going to die” during the assault.
?@telegraph_sport? backpage splashing with the horrific injuries suffered by ?@MelbourneRebels? star Lopeti Timani after allegedly being attacked by ?@SuperRugby? teammate Amanaki Mafi last weekend. https://t.co/OWM1KXzUNA pic.twitter.com/mY6PXipBi8
— Tim Morrissey (@timmorrissey) July 17, 2018
Mafi, who played for the Tokyo-based Sunwolves in this year’s Super Rugby campaign, admitted to the beating and said he had become “enraged” by his teammates coarse language, but Judge Macdonald described his actions as “an extreme overreaction”.
In a victim impact statement, Timani said the assault has significantly affecting him both physically and emotionally.
He said he believed the ordeal, and the “concussive symptoms” stemming from it, could have shortened his playing career by a year.
Judge MacDonald said the injuries Timani sustained from the event – which included swelling to the base of his skull and neck – took six months to resolve, while his concussion also impacted his ability to play rugby for six months.
The Crown’s lawyer, Robin Bates, acknowledged that a conviction could have led to the termination of his Japanese rugby contract, and although MacDonald did not know the exact terms of Mafi’s contract, he understood it to be “significant, if not substantial”.
MacDonald said that Mafi’s offending was “moderately serious”, but noted that it was his first time before the courts, and that he was clearly remorseful for his actions.
Consequently, Mafi has been ordered to pay NZ$50,000, which includes Timani’s A$15,000 fine and NZ$20,000 in medical expenses.
A letter of apology will also be passed onto the victim.
Mafi was selected in Japan’s World Cup squad in September, and played in two matches at the tournament, including the Brave Blossoms’ defeat to eventual champions South Africa in their maiden appearance in the competition’s quarter-final.
Timani, meanwhile, hasn’t represented Australia since November 2017.
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