Australia’s rugby sevens head coach says he thought the team’s captain James Stannard was going to die when he was allegedly assaulted in a one-punch attack in Coogee early Friday morning.
Andy Friend said he did not see Stannard get hit but was witness the “surreal” aftermath.
“All I saw was James falling and I saw him hit the ground very hard,” Friend said.
“My instinct was that he wasn’t good, that it was fatal and my instinct was then to make sure that the offender was not going to get away with that.”
A 22-year-old British man has been charged over the alleged incident, which happened at about 3:10am outside a kebab shop on Coogee Bay Road.
Stannard has been ruled out of the Commonwealth Games after fracturing his skull.
Friend said Stannard has not sustained permanent damage from his injury.
“Every indication is that there will be no long-term damage to James, he’ll be fine,” he said.
Stannard has been cleared by his neurosurgeon and an ear, nose and throat specialist to leave hospital, however he is likely to remain there for another day.
“He’s doing really well. It didn’t look good, as I said before, but he’s doing really well,” Friend said.
Friend became emotional as he spoke about witnessing similar incidents, including his wife’s accident while mountain biking several years ago, which left her with a brain injury.
A ‘beautiful’ night turned sour
On Thursday evening, members of the Australian team had surprised Friend with a farewell dinner at Coogee’s Crowne Plaza, ahead of his contract expiring in July.
“The night was probably, in all my years of rugby, one of the most special nights I’ve been involved in,” said Friend.
“It was basically a beautiful surprise and farewell party for me, so it was very, very touching.
“It was a beautiful night, there was a lot of emotion showed, a lot of kind words spoken about and sadly it finished in a not so good way.”
After the function, a smaller group were continuing their night out in Coogee when the alleged assault occurred.
When asked why the team had been out drinking at 3:00am, Friend said he and Stannard and two other players, Lewis Holland and Ben O’Donnell, were the only ones who had stayed out that late and the night had been so positive, none of them had wanted it to end.
“Yep I get it, people will assume because you’re out at 3 o’clock in the morning that you’re doing something wrong,” he said.
“I’ve been a coach for 23 years [and] I’ve been to a lot of those events where you smell something is going wrong. That was not that night, it was just a sharing of good times and emotion.
“So people will make their own assessments, but I will assure you, it was not a boozy affair that was going to turn sour.”
Teammates’ citizen’s arrest
Friend said he could not describe what was going through his mind the moment 35-year-old Stannard landed heavily on the footpath.
“It was one of those surreal moments where the world stopped,” he said.
“My instinct was initially James, so I went straight to [him] and he wasn’t moving, he was unconscious, and then it was … to make sure the perpetrator didn’t get away.”
He said he, Holland and O’Donnell chased the alleged attacker and held him down for about two or three minutes until police arrived.
“I was really proud of them – it’s one of those moments where you never know how people are going to react,” he said.
“I think the important thing though is that they reacted in a responsible way and a caring way and more importantly the way they reacted to James at the time to make sure that he was alright and to make sure that he was comforted and cared for until the ambulance arrived.”
He said that they and the rest of the team were coping well in the aftermath of the incident.
“They’re good. I think the comfort and the support that they’ve offered James is testament to the group,” he said.
“I think the pleasing thing for the group is that they know that James is now going to be fine and as disappointing as it is that James will not be playing at the Comm Games, they know that his future’s bright. That’s most important thing.”
Friend said Stannard would likely attend the Commonwealth Games in a support role for the team. His replacement is yet to be announced.
“I’m not going to pretend it’s going to be easy to fill James’ shoes, it’s not,” Friend said.
“But I do know, as a group, we will rally and we will be out there aiming to get that gold medal.”