Former Australian sevens captain James Stannard has expressed disappointment after a young Englishman was found not guilty of king hitting him during an argument outside a Sydney kebab shop.
Sam Oliver, 23, claimed he acted in self-defence when he punched Stannard, 35, in Coogee in the early hours of March 30.
After a 2½ day hearing in Downing Centre Local Court involving 16 witnesses, magistrate Richard Funston on Wednesday found Oliver not guilty of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm.
"I have come to the view that I’m not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that this very serious charge can be made out,” Mr Funston said.
It was not in dispute Oliver punched the then-national skipper but he testified on Tuesday it was "for self protection" after Stannard allegedly threw the first blow into his left eye.
Stannard suffered a fractured skull and though he escaped a potentially tragic outcome he was forced to retire from rugby due to his head injury and he gave evidence he still suffers vertigo.
Speaking after the verdict, Stannard said: "I'm very disappointed with the decision today."
"I feel like the truth didn't come out in the hearing," Stannard continued.
"There's no excuse for violence in this community at all and I am not condoning it. I would like to thank all the support I have had everywhere leading up, from family, friends, work colleagues and even all the witnesses."
The magistrate noted the “critical finding” was that Oliver’s own facial injuries “must have occurred at the first incident” - when he was arguing with Stannard - and not when he fled and was tackled by Stannard’s teammates into a car.
He said he “couldn’t ignore” a reference made in the statement of outgoing rugby sevens coach, Andrew Friend, that he heard Stannard say ‘my brother-in-law is a Pom and I don’t get on that well with him’ before the clash.
“This unfortunate incident had the potential to end with even more tragic circumstances,” Mr Funston said.
"We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the fact that alcohol was such a huge issue.”
CCTV footage showed the pair separately leaving Coogee Bay Hotel after security staff evicted patrons at 3am.
Prosecutor Burton Ko argued "there was only one hit" and Oliver's injuries were sustained when he was tackled into a car by current captain Lewis Holland, who had been out with Stannard, as he tried to run from the scene.
The players were farewelling Friend, who helped to detain the alleged assailant.
Mr Oliver said he was "in good spirits" and waiting for his housemate to get food from the kebab shop when Stannard - "a man I didn't know" - separated from his own group and approached.
The prosecutor asked: "What did he (Stannard) say?"
Oliver replied: "Here's another Pommy c---."
"I was just taken back. He wasn't a friend or anyone I knew. I didn't know how he knew I was Pommy," he said.
"I remember I said something along the lines of 'You're all Pommies down the line' just to give it a bit back."
Oliver said Stannard was "getting aggressive, puffing his chest out" before it escalated beyond name-calling.
"His whole body language changed and I was hit," he said, admitting he'd had eight to 10 pints when he "lashed out in retaliation".
"I must have just instinctively tried to protect myself."
Medical records referred to in court show Stannard was also intoxicated with a blood alcohol reading of 0.23.
The court was played video taken from a police body-worn camera on Constable Maria Gregory, who interviewed the British national shortly after the alleged Good Friday assault.
In the footage, Oliver says he got into an argument about "Pommies in general" and "it got a bit nasty".
"He hit me before I hit him ... look at my eye. I hit him back and then I ran away," the then-22-year-old says.
Mr Oliver, supported by his father in court, is on a working holiday visa until September 21.
Giving evidence, Stannard denied calling Mr Oliver a "Pommy c---" but agreed he refers to English people as "Poms" on occasion.
Stannard said the last thing he remembered was the band at the Coogee Bay Hotel finishing as the pub closed for the night.
"What was your next memory?" Mr Ko asked.
"In hospital," Stannard said. "I had an extremely sore head and I had blood coming out of my ear. I was quite anxious. I didn't know what was going on."
Stannard said he has "ongoing" vertigo after the incident and had to go to follow-up medical appointments for his fractured skull.
Stannard missed the 2018 Commonwealth Games in April due to his head injuries and later retired.
Teammate Lewis Holland told the hearing on Monday he "heard a bone-crushing sound" when his teammate was struck and fell.
"I play rugby. When you hear a good solid tackle the energy just kind of stops," Holland said. "I heard that, then I looked up and saw James falling to the ground."
Holland said he saw someone run off, and heard others in the crowd say "stop him" or "grab him" before he gave chase. Teammate Ben O'Donnell caught up to the man first, and when Holland arrived he tackled the man to the ground.
"At the time I was injured so I was running pretty slow," Holland said. "I arrived and just made a tackle."