Members of the Highlanders Super Rugby squad have been sanctioned over the past two seasons for off-field antics gone awry.
But they pale into comparison to what happened when English test star James Haskell threw a party at the end of his stint with the Dunedin-based franchise.
Haskell has recounted tour stories and, at times, wild off-field antics in his two rugby memoirs; What A Flanker, and Ruck Me. The latter was released in the UK last month.
His first book – which came out late last year – includes the fall-out from ultimately unproven allegations of sexual harassment from a housemaid during England’s stay in Dunedin during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
In it, Haskell also revealed how a party he threw in the southern city resulted in All Blacks Jimmy Cowan and Lima Sopoaga being knocked out, his receiving facial injuries, garden furniture and some of his clothes being torched and police being called.
In What A Flanker, he recalled as one of his “worst ideas”, hosting the party at the house he rented – which was owned by former Highlanders and Manu Samoa star Seilala Mapusua – the day after the Highlanders’ Super Rugby season had ended.
“On hearing a commotion coming from the garden, I wandered outside to discover they’d stacked some of Mapusua’s garden furniture under the eaves of the house and set it on fire, along with some of my clothes,” he wrote.
“I obviously lost the plot, and as I was in mid-flow, Lima Sopoaga jumped me and smashed an egg on my head. The yolk hadn’t even had time to start dripping down my face when I charged through what was now a raging fire, like some deranged stuntman, and knocked Lima cold with an overhand right. I thought I’d killed him.”
Haskell was then punched, with his nose being “split”, by one of Sopoaga’s close friends in the Highlanders.
Meanwhile, Cowan – “for reasons he probably didn’t even know” – threw a punch at team-mate Elliot Dixon, who in turn knocked out the 51-test halfback.
“Now we had two blokes out cold in the garden and it was like a scene from that New Zealand film Once Were Warriors, except instead of someone shouting ‘Cook the man some f***ing eggs!’ someone was smashing raw eggs on my forehead,” Haskell wrote.
When his team-mates “who were conscious” refused to leave, Haskell said he rang the police and told an operator: “I’ve got an out-of-control party at my house, which might burn down at any minute – get around here now’.”
He said several patrol cars arrived, with officers offering to drive the players home.
“Now it was just me and Jimmy Cowan in the house, me with my busted nose and him with a big cut above his eye,” Haskell recalled.
“It looked like we’d just gone 12 rounds. Having put the flames out – which wasn’t easy – and finally persuaded Cowan to get lost, I got a taxi to A&E. Luckily the doctor was an English rugby fan and did a beautiful stitching job.
“The following morning I was relieved to find the place hadn’t burnt down. But the carnage was even worse than I remembered.
“The house was littered with bottles and someone had spewed on the floor in the kitchen. I also discovered that they’d tried to light another fire at the other end of the garden, right next to the propane tank.
“Had that fire taken off, it would have blown us all up.”
Haskell saw his team-mates again at another social gathering before he returned to the UK.
“It was as if nothing had happened,” he wrote.
‘What the hell were you guys thinking?’ . . . ‘Oh, it was only a bit of fun’.”
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