Former Gloucester and England Rugby forward Adam Eustace angrily hit a touch judge in the face, knocking him to the ground, during a bad tempered match at Stroud, a court heard yesterday.
Lock forward Eustace – who was called into Sir Clive Woodward’s England squad during his playing heyday in 2000 – was at the match as the coach of Chosen Hill rugby club on September 29 last year, Cheltenham Magistrates court was told.
At one stage he went onto the field when one of his players was knocked unconscious – and then he reacted to abuse from opposition supporters by assaulting Stroud RFC player Joe Hoyle, who was running the line as touch judge.
Mr Hoyle suffered an injury to his mouth that needed stitches and the attack has affected his self confidence, the court was told.
Eustace, a plumber, of Cheltenham Road, Longlevens, pleaded guilty to assaulting Mr Hoyle causing him actual bodily harm.
Sentencing him, court chairman Peter Gray said: “It is a great shame that the end of your long and illustrious rugby career has been marred by an isolated incident which will doubtless remain a little part of the memories concerning your name – and you will be the one who will feel saddest about that.”
Eustace was ordered to do 80 hours of unpaid work for the community and placed on a 12 months community order. He was fined £50, ordered to pay compensation of £100 to Mr Hoyle as well as costs of £85 and a surcharge of £85 – a total financial penalty of £320.
The court heard that he had been immediately suspended by Chosen Hill after the incident and may yet face disciplinary action from the RFU – although he has himself decided to ‘walk away’ and end his involvement with rugby.
Prosecutor May Li had told the court: “During the game at Stroud between Stroud and Chosen Hill there was an incident between two players involving a high bad tackle.
“A Chosen Hill player was knocked unconscious. Mr Eustace was the coach for Chosen Hill and went onto the pitch from the sidelines. He made his way towards the incident as more players became involved.
“After a short time the referee regained control of the players and first aid was given to the unconscious player.
“The referee and some of the players then tried to remove Mr Eustace from the pitch but he refused to leave. A number of Stroud fans began to shout abuse at him . They said ‘Get off the f***ing pitch’ and ‘stop being a d***head.’ When he heard those comments he made his way across the pitch to the Stroud fans.
“He challenged them and asked ‘who said that?'”
Ms Li said that Mr Hoyle told Eustace it was he who had made a comment. Mr Hoyle, a Stroud player, was recovering from an injury at that time and was unable to play so he was running the line as touch judge.
There was a confrontation between the two men and a Stroud substitute got between them to try to calm it down, said Ms Li.
But Eustace managed to reach around the man and punch Mr Hoyle to the face, causing him to fall to the ground, she said.
He suffered a cut to the left side of his mouth. By the time police arrived Eustace had left the scene.
Interviewed later, he claimed he had acted in self defence and he maintained he had hit Mr Hoyle with an open palm, not a clenched fist.
He said he had done it because he feared he was about to be assaulted.
In a victim statement, Mr Hoyle said the injury had needed several stitches and it had left him feeling embarrassed to go to work.
“Because I work in a school a lot of children would ask how I received the injury,” he said. “I made up a story that I had received the injury during a sporting event.”
Luckily, he said, the scar had not been as bad as he feared but it had affected his self confidence and he notices it every time he looks in the mirror.
Tim Burrows, defending, told the court “Mr Eustace has been involved in rugby pretty much the whole of his life. He is not involved any more because of this incident.
“He is a former Gloucester Rugby player and is quite well known.
“There was some history between the two teams involved in this case and it was a bit of a grudge match. Mr Hoyle himself says there was an awful lot of niggle in the game.”
Mr Burrows said the referee ‘appears to have completely lost control of the game’ at the time of the incident.
“Mr Eustace was extremely concerned and went onto the pitch. He accepts he should not have confronted Mr Hoyle but the red mist descended, I think on all sides, and there was a confrontation.”
“He threw one blow but he says it was not a punch. I have to say if he had punched this man there would have been a lot more damage caused.
“He has since seen Mr Hoyle and shaken hands with him.”
“This case has caused him a huge amount of stress – it has had a monumental effect on him. He is extremely concerned for his liberty.
“It may well be that there is further sanction to come from the RFU after this.”