Given what the early hours of the next morning were to hold, the rugby players who set out in high spirits to enjoy a Halloween celebration on October 26, 2013, must wish they had opted for an early night instead.

A brief, violent confrontation in a take-away shop has had long-lasting consequences.

As well as being a personal calamity for the two main protagonists, Ryan Wilson of Glasgow Warriors and, more especially, the man he was found guilty of assaulting, Glasgow Hawks centre Ally Maclay, the incident has caused much angst in rugby circles.

It has led to some asking whether the Scottish Rugby Union, the guardians of the game in Scotland, acted principally as the employers of the professional players and failed to exercise a duty of care towards Maclay, one of their registered amateur players.

None of these weighty matters was on the minds of the merry band who traipsed from the Hawks clubhouse following a 24-8 win over Edinburgh Accies. The victorious players had organised an official Halloween party and were in fancy dress - as were the Warriors players involved in the ensuing incident. The two groups came together in a well-known West End nightspot called Viper, better recalled by a previous generation as Cleopatra's, or in the vernacular, Clatty Pat's.

That venue, allied to the fact that the subsequent assault took place in the nearby Barbeque King take-away shop on Great Western Road and the fact that the players were in fancy dress, combined to give the Glasgow Sheriff Court proceedings some 15 months later a degree of levity they did not merit. Wilson was dressed as Batman and Maclay as Tweedledee - and the tone for the coverage was set by Maclay's remark, "Leave it, Batman," as he sought to defuse a row.

A Hawks source, speaking with the authority of the club's president Chas Afuakwah, said: "What was an unprovoked assault was made to look like some clowns in fancy dress involved in a bar brawl. It wasn't like that. The fact that the case was heard by a sheriff and jury, rather than a sheriff on his own, reflects its seriousness."

As was widely reported last month, Wilson was fined £500 for the assault on Maclay, which left the 30-year-old with a fractured eye socket and bloodied face. He was fined a further £250 for an assault on another man. Two other Warriors players, Ryan Grant and Rory Hughes, were accused of kicking and stamping on Maclay to his severe injury but the jury arrived at a verdict of not proven. Maclay suffered a fractured eye socket and a bloodied face.

Had the case involved footballers, few would have been surprised. Scottish players are involved in such incidents intermittently and, indeed, there is a similar case pending involving players from two professional clubs, which also occurred in Glasgow's west end. But rugby prides itself on taking a hard line against miscreants, both on and off the pitch. Unlike football, players are taught to respect referees' decisions - and there is a general emphasis on self-discipline provided it is not accompanied by copious quantities of alcohol.

The draconian sentences meted out by previous SRU regimes to offenders are the stuff of legend. Old-school Murrayfield secretaries introduced the concept of zero tolerance long before the term had been coined. Among the many cases which could be put forward as evidence was the one of John Jeffrey, the iconic Scotland internationalist and now a member of the rugby establishment, who was banned from playing for six months for damaging the Calcutta Cup in a drunken jape following the 1988 match against England. His co-conspirator and fellow culprit, English policeman Dean Richards, got a one-match ban from the RFU.

The sport changed forever almost 20 years ago when the International Rugby Board bowed to the inevitable and accepted professionalism. It has had many consequences, but Glasgow Hawks officials believe that the fall-out from the Wilson case exposed the SRU to the charge of a conflict of interest in that Wilson, Grant and Hughes were its employees and that they acted as employers instead of protecting the wider reputation of the game.

Initially, six Warriors players and another employee were disciplined by the club for their various roles around the incident. They included Sean Maitland, like Wilson and Grant a Scotland internationalist. All three players continued to be capped by Scotland in the period before the case was finally being heard in the sheriff court last month.

Grant, a British and Irish Lion, returned to the Scotland squad at the conclusion of the trial and the non-proven verdict. On Wednesday Mark Dodson, the SRU chief executive, issued a statement intimating that Wilson had been suspended for three months without pay and would undertake a programme designed to address the factors which contributed to his conviction.

"If this incident had happened between amateur players they would all have been called up to Murrayfield to give evidence to a disciplinary committee," the Hawks source said. "It's like they've reacted to them being in court, rather than because of the incident itself."

While the episode has been hugely damaging for Wilson, the father of two young children, Maclay is the undoubted victim, a man the Hawks source says has been largely disregarded by the SRU throughout the affair. He has largely kept his counsel, other than making a brief statement on Facebook when the court case concluded.

A PE teacher at the High School of Glasgow, where he was himself educated, Maclay had only returned to the city six months before the incident following a spell as a rugby development officer in Hong Kong. His brother John, an anaesthetist, also played for the Hawks and the family are an integral part of the city's close-knit rugby community.

As well as being a violent exchange in a fast-food outlet, what occurred in the early hours of October 27 was a collision between professional and amateur rugby. The paid players were the focus of all the media attention, and they were also the SRU's employees. The victim, the amateur player who, according to most accounts, was trying to be a peace-maker in the incident, was afforded little sympathy.

"If I've learned anything from this time," he wrote plaintively towards the end of his Facebook post, "my advice to anyone thinking of being the good guy and trying to calm down a heated situation between two or more drunk homo sapiens [is] be smart and walk away."

That is an ever more common refrain in the wider world. It now reflects the changed nature of the sport of rugby.