‘I thought I was going to die’: Timani claims he was bashed and bundled into car

'Oku taupotu 'i lalo ha fakamatala faka-Tonga ki he talanoa' ni

By Georgina Robinson, Sydney Morning Herald.

Australian rugby player Lopeti Timani claims he was repeatedly bashed and bundled into a car in a vicious attack at the hands of teammate and childhood friend Amanaki Mafi in New Zealand a week ago.

Timani claims he endured four hours of terror in south Dunedin after Mafi and his older brother set upon the towering former Wallaby over a swear word Timani used in front of the Mafis’ sister, who was present at the time.

Timani, 27, claims he fled the house in fear of his life, was hunted down and bashed again in a nearby park, then dragged into a car and driven around town, before eventually fleeing at traffic lights and hiding in a bush.

Mafi has been charged with assault over the allegations.

The 195cm, 123kg Timani, who decided to tell his side of the story after being contacted by Fairfax Media, said at one point he lay on the ground in a park, pleading with his assailants to stop, and wondered whether he would die there. All the while Timani’s eldest brother, Sione, whom he had called in tears after fleeing the house, listened to the attack, helpless from his base in France.

“His brother tried to hold me as ‘Naki’ [Mafi] started punching me in the face,” Timani recalled.

“I said, ‘Mate, why are you doing this to me, I thought you were my teammate, I know your family, are you punching me because you’re angry because I said something offensive to your family?’

“He was just punching me and he said ‘because I’m telling you now I’m the man, I’m the man’. I thought they were going to kill me. I thought I was going to die.”

Timani alleges that Mafi and his brother then dragged him by his shirt to their car and held him by his jumper collar as Mafi’s brother drove around town.

“I didn’t know where they were trying to take me. Naki was just swearing at me in the Tongan rude way. I decided if the car stopped at a red light I would run and try to get back to the hotel.”

When the car pulled up at the next intersection, Timani bolted. He claims he ran 200 metres or so before hiding in a bush on the main street and waiting there for 20 minutes, watching out for the Mafis’ car, before flagging down a cab. He made it back to the team hotel, the Scenic Circle Southern Cross, at about 6am.

The origin of the attack came under circumstances in which Timani is not proud. He and Mafi, who were in the same year at well-known school Tongan College ‘Atele, have been fined $15,000 for being out drinking, in contravention of team protocol. Timani admitted he and Mafi were drinking with Mafi’s relatives while they watched the match between the Sharks and Jaguares in Durban at 1am on Sunday, a game on which the Rebels’ season depended.

Mafi had invited Timani for dinner at his brother’s house after the Rebels’ loss to the Highlanders on Saturday night. Timani partook in the family meal and things kicked on as they waited to learn whether the Rebels would be playing in the Super Rugby finals. Timani described a relaxed atmosphere, with the group sharing some laughs and Mafi dancing, before things soured.

“[It was] dumb to be doing that [drinking],” he said. “Naki got offended because I said something offensive in front of his sister, so he started having a go at me, saying I was saying something rude. We had an argument, I was trying to tell him I was sorry and ‘I didn’t mean to make you angry or offend anyone’.

“He started throwing a punch at me … his older brother was standing on the side and at that time I thought he was going to stop us or tell Naki to calm down because I’d said sorry … then his brother decided he would punch me on my face, from the side, and then started bashing me and knocked me [down].

“I was trying to get back on my feet, to get off the ground, and I decided to run, because I felt something was wrong. I got out the door and ran. My face was bleeding and I was crying, so I called my brother, because I didn’t know who to call.”

Sione Timani tried to calm down his younger brother, but Timani believes it was the blue light of the phone in the dark that led his alleged attackers to him in the park.

“I heard someone say, ‘There’s Lopeti’ … They chased me again and caught me and started bashing me and kicking me on the ground,” he said.

Timani dropped his phone when they allegedly set upon him again, but his brother stayed on the line from France, forced to listen while the attack continued and then when the line went silent, while Timani was bundled into the nearby car.

By the time the taxi dropped Timani back at his hotel, police officers were waiting for him. Fearing for his youngest brother’s life, Sione Timani had called every police station and hospital in the city, searching for him.

“They thought I’d died,” Timani said. “He told me he listened for an hour and then my phone [went] off.”

Police took multiple statements from Timani and charged Mafi later that day with injuring with intent to injure, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

The 28-year-old Japan international appeared in the Dunedin District Court on Monday and was granted bail on the condition he did not associate with his alleged victim. It is understood that Mafi’s version of events includes that Timani used a swear word in front of Mafi’s female relatives.

Both men are leaving the club at season’s end, with Timani and his fiancee, Goldy Floyd, moving to France to take up a contract with La Rochelle.

Timani said he suffered severe facial and bone bruising, bleeding in his ears and concussion symptoms. He was stitched up by the Rebels team doctor and underwent scans in hospital, before being cleared of any major injury. He said he was seeing a counsellor in Melbourne on Saturday to help process what happened.

“I’m speaking because I want people to know it wasn’t just a fight between two players,” he said. “I can’t stop thinking about what happened, I wake up and it’s just running through my head.”

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