SHAFAQNA – Ben Flower apologised for the punch deemed too violent for daytime TV as he attempted to cushion the blow to his own career, Wigan Warriors and the reputation of rugby league.
In a display of inexplicable brutality, two minutes into the Grand Final at Old Trafford, Flower knelt over St Helens’ Lance Hohaia — whom he had already knocked unconscious with a swinging punch — and landed a second, shocking blow.
‘There is no defence for my actions,’ said Flower. ‘It was something that happened in the heat of the moment when our emotions and adrenaline were running high. I instantly regretted it and am devastated that I allowed myself to punch someone like this.’
Watch Flower’s shocking attack on Hohaia in Grand Final
Wigan prop Ben Flower knocked St Helens stand-off Lance Hohaia to the ground
Wales international Flower then followed up by landing a right hook on the stricken Hohaia
Hohaia was left bruised and dazed and taken to the dressing room for treatment at Old Trafford
Born: October 19, 1987, Cardiff
Position: Prop forward/second row
Height: 6ft Weight: 17st
2010 South Wales Scorpions (loan)
Sixteen caps for Wales
It was an inexcusable attack and few have sought to offer mitigation, beyond reiterating the intensity of the derby between Wigan and Saints, two towns nine miles apart and with a fierce, long-standing rivalry.
But the sport now faces an uncomfortable week as it decides how to punish Flower and limit the damage to its image.
The incident will likely be referred to an independent disciplinary board, which will sit on Tuesday, chaired by High Court Judge Chris Batty and assisted by former players Danny Sculthorpe and Neil Turley.
There is no ceiling to the length of ban Flower could face, with some calling for him to be banned for life.
There is also a possibility that Flower could face criminal charges, despite both Hohaia and St Helens coach Nathan Brown stating they did not want a prosecution.
Refeere Phil Bentham shows red card to Wigan prop Flower during Saturday’s Grand Final
Flower walks from the Old Trafford pitch after receiving a red card during the Super League Grand Final
‘I am so sorry for what happened on Saturday night.
‘There is no defence for my actions. It was something that happened in the heat of the moment when our emotions and adrenaline were running high. I instantly regretted it and am devastated that I allowed myself to punch someone like this.
‘At Wigan we are known for being aggressive but we are constantly told to do this within the rules of the game and that punching isn’t tough. We may aim to dominate teams, but we don’t aim to hurt people.
‘I firstly offer my apologies to Lance. I have full respect for him and have never gone onto a rugby field to injure a fellow player. I hope he is okay.
‘I’d also like to say sorry to my team-mates, our fans and the Wigan club. I know I’ve let them down like never before and accept I’ll have to live with this for the rest of my career.
‘Finally, I’m sorry to the sport of rugby league. It was a big night and I know I’ve taken the attention away from what was a special event.’
A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police said: ‘We will be liaising with the Rugby Football League, St. Helens and the Crown Prosecution Service before a decision is made on what course of action is to be taken.’
Flower apologised in a carefully constructed 188-word statement to the entire rugby league community.
On a weekend when the sport was basking in the spotlight, with no Premier League football, he ensured the match will be remembered for a moment of madness rather than a St Helens side who overcame adversity to win 14-6 and end an eight-year spell without a Grand Final triumph.
There was a festival atmosphere before the match with both sets of supporters mingling. One group held up placards spelling ‘RL New Era’ — but Flower’s punch harked back to the dark ages.
‘It’s rare the sport has such a window of opportunity for publicity, falling on an international weekend,’ said Phil Caplan, the editor of Forty-20 magazine.
‘It gave rugby league the sort of profile it’s been craving in the Super League era. The atmosphere at Old Trafford was as good as it ever has been. Then within two minutes the whole thing was turned on its head.’
‘That is almost the story of rugby league in microcosm — grasping for its opportunity but falling just short. It is sad that this punch will be the defining image of the 2014 season. I believe it was a one-off, uncharacteristic for the player and the sport.’
Hohaia, who watched the rest of the match from the dugout after the punch ended his game, could also face punishment for his off-the-ball shoulder charge on Flower which appeared to provoke the attack. The New Zealander was in a forgiving mood after the game.
‘Those things are best left on the field,’ he said. ‘Sometimes people do silly things that they regret. I am not a person who holds grudges. I am happy to leave that on the field and move forward.’
Flower’s Wigan team-mates, who fought bravely but were unable to hold on to their half-time lead, rallied in support of him. ‘It’s not the image the game wants to portray,’ said Matty Smith.
Saints stand-off Hohaia received medical attention after being punched by Flower
‘He’s punched him on the floor and Benny will learn from that. He’ll be absolutely devastated but we’ll all be behind him. He’s a great lad, he’s passionate, he’s everything about the club, we love him to bits.’
The incident was replayed millions of times on the internet and prompted widespread national debate. The BBC decided it was too brutal to replay on its breakfast news bulletins.
‘I was already thinking about it on my drive into work because it’s a great story and a “wow” moment,’ said BBC Sports News senior producer Ian Kemp.
St Helens celebrate a famous victory at Old Trafford after seeing off 12-man Wigan with a second-half salvo
‘The breakfast producers were talking about it when I arrived. They weren’t comfortable running the pictures. It’s the sheer brutality of it, the guy’s unconscious and takes one right in the face.’
There is little precedence in rugby league to suggest how this storyline will play out but the RFL are expected to work swiftly, with a decision on Flower’s punishment expected in a week.
One thing is for sure, the full impact of the punch that shocked the world is yet to be determined.
Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/rugbyleague/article-2789890/wigan-prop-ben-flower-apologises-vicious-attack-lance-hohaia-says-no-defence-actions.html