NZ backs Umaga and Masoe after handbag brawl

Wellington - New Zealand rugby officials are investigating allegations that Wellington Hurricanes and All Blacks forward Chris Masoe punched a patron in a bar before being hit by team-mate and former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga, who was armed with a woman's handbag.

Masoe, who forms part of the tough "Devil's Henchmen" loose trio in the Hurricanes, was reported to have burst out crying when Umaga hit him.

The brawl erupted at 7am on Sunday morning after the Hurricanes had spent the night commiserating following their 12-19 loss to the Canterbury Crusaders in the Super 14 rugby final played in dense fog in Christchurch on Saturday night.

A 24-year-old Christchurch man, who did not want to be identified, told The Press newspaper that he was in a bar where Masoe, who had been drinking and playing pool, tripped over his feet.

Masoe then turned and allegedly punched him in the jaw.

"He just hit me in the side of the jaw. I was real shocked," the man said.

"Then Umaga hit him a couple of times with the handbag as if to say 'you idiot'. Masoe started crying. It was crazy."

The 22-year-old woman who owned the handbag said she couldn't believe what happened.

"I mean a handbag, of all things. How hilarious... he hit him pretty hard. We heard it crack across the bar. He cracked him up the side of the head twice," she told The Press.

The Hurricanes public relations manager Greg Palmer later issued a statement saying the team management had been advised about an incident involving Masoe and Umaga in a Christchurch bar.

"The matter is now being investigated by Hurricanes team management and further information will be provided once the details surrounding the incident have been fully established.

"Due to the fact that information is still being gathered, it would be unfair to prejudge the events that occurred until a full and accurate picture is available," Palmer said.

All Blacks manager Greg Shand would not comment on whether the incident would affect Masoe's future.

"We need to investigate the incident and then determine what happens from there," he said. - Sapa-AFP

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