A teenage Fijian backrow is facing into a possible life ban and criminal charges for brutally punching a referee – breaking his nose.

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The incident occurred during a Skipper Cup U19 match between Naitasiri and Tailevu at Ratu Cakobau Park in Nausori Fiji.

Naitasiri Under-19 rugby flanker Keresi Maya blindsided referee Peni Talemaivavalagi after disagreeing with a decision. The cheap shot dropped the referee to ground, breaking his nose.

The Fiji Sun report that Maya was questioned by police at the scene and was later taken to Nausori Police Station. A video of the incident has appeared online.

The match was called off and the Fijian Rugby Union (FRU) awarded the match to Tailevu. The operations manager for the FRU – Sale Sorovaki – has said Maya could potentially be banned for life.

“There is no room for striking a referee in a rugby match,” he said.

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“He punched the referee, but we’ll see how it goes because safety is paramount. He will be in Police custody and therefore it is in the hands of the law.”

What makes the incident more confounding is that teen in question could have potentially ruined a career in the NRL.

According to Fiji journalist Filipe Naikaso, he was set to take up a contract with the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL, a move delayed by the pandemic. “The U19 Naitasiri rugby player that punched the ref yesterday was offered a 3 year contract with NRL club Cronulla Sharks. He couldn’t leave because of COVID-19 so he was playing for Naitasiri while awaiting word from Australia.”

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Former Fijian international Nemani Nadolo weighed in on the incident on social media, writing: “I hope that young ref who got king hit in a local game back home is ok. Match officials can frustrate us in the heat of the moment. It’s our duty as players to make sure their safety during the game is paramount. Violence doesn’t solve anything.”

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