Tonga player arrested after Canada match

A member of the Tongan rugby team was among 12 people arrested in central Whangarei after Tonga's Rugby World Cup match against Canada.

Northland police RWC operations commander Inspector Murray Hodson said yesterday the Tongan player had been arrested for breaching the city's CBD liquor ban. He was given a warning and police would not be taking the matter further.

Tongan team manager Aminiasi Kefu said the team was disappointed the incident had taken place. It's understod the arrest took place at a Cameron St bar that has tables on the footpath outside the premises.

It is believed the player stepped outside the permitted boundary where bar patrons can go while holding a drink. Mr Kefu said the player had not been wandering around with liquor.

The player would be dealt with through the team's internal disciplinary process.

Meanwhile, after Tonga's loss, close to 1000 fans who came from Auckland in buses may think twice about attending next week's game against Japan.

Supporter Will `Ilolahia said fans were unhappy with Mr Kefu's decision to not accept $10,000 cash raised in Auckland for the players.

Mr `Ilolahia was part of a group offering Mr Kefu the money, to be handed over to the players, but was turned away. The money, contained in 30 envelopes, was raised by 20 different groups in Auckland, including the Good Samaritans disabled group.

"We've come to Northland, amongst the Ngapuhi community, to give our koha to the team and the management refuses to accept it,'' Mr `Ilolahia said.

Mr Kefu said the money was not accepted because the donors turned up at the wrong time.

"We emailed them to say `let's just wait and we'll receive the money at an appropriate time' but they came out of the blue, at a delicate time when the team was preparing for its game against Canada,'' he said.

Mr Kefu said the team would never refuse donations but that there was a time for everything.

But Mr `Ilolahia said the koha refusal and Wednesday's loss to Canada could keep hundreds of Auckland-based Tongan fans away from next week's game.

Supporters, including the King's niece, Princess Lupe Pau'u, had travelled from Auckland to watch the Ikale Tahi.

Tongan businesses pitched in and paid for the buses.

Mr `Ilolahia said controversy regarding team selection and pay issues before the team left Tonga affected the players and played a part in how they performed against Canada.

Tongan Rugby Union chairman Bob Tuckey, an Australian, stepped down two weeks before the tournament when coach Isitolo Maka indicated his 30-man World Cup squad would include former captain Nili Latu. Reports said Tuckey was also protesting against what he saw as increasing interference of Tongan lawmakers in the team's preparation.

- Imran Ali and Mike Barrington

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