A FORMER rugby league star floored a pub bouncer by getting in the first blow because he feared 6ft 4in tall heavyweight was about to hurt him, a court heard yesterday.

But Lea Tichener, who turned out for York Wasps 99 times before his retirement last September, denied head-butting door manager Dominic M'Benga whose nose, cheekbone and eye socket were broken during the Indian restaurant fight.

Tichener, 29, of Foxton, Woodthorpe, York, denied at his York Crown Court trial inflicting grievous bodily harm on Mr M'Benga in January last year after the victim banned the player from two popular city centre drinking spots.

Felicity Davies, prosecuting, claimed that eight weeks after the ban the two men met up in the Moghul Restaurant in York, and that Tichener carried out an unprovoked attack on Mr M'Benga, resulting in tables being smashed and overturned as the men fought.

Tichener told the jury that when he met up with Mr M'Benga, sarcastic remarks were made to him.

"He stood back and I was expecting him to punch me. I hit Mr M'Benga. I am 15 and a half stone and fit and I hit him hard. I hit him with my fist on his nose and after we fell over he kept saying 'Is that the best you've got.' It all happened very quickly and when we got up I left the restaurant as fast as I could," the accused said,

PC John Medley told the court that in his interview Tichener said he got in the first blow because Mr M'Benga was a big strong man and he feared he was about to be hurt.

The hearing continues.