World Rugby’s crackdown on dangerous tackles has ignited controversy just two games into the World Cup after Australia wing Reece Hodge escaped a red card against Fiji.
Hodge prevented Peceli Yato from scoring a certain try in the 26th minute of the Wallabies’ 39-21 victory by halting the openside with a shoulder-led, no-arms challenge to the head.
Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu revealed after the Pool D showdown at the Sapporo Dome that, having requested referee Ben O’Keeffe to refer the incident to English TMO Rowan Kitt, the tackle was deemed legitimate.
Adding to the Islanders’ sense of grievance is that Yato, who scored the opening try and was superb until his departure, then failed a head injury assessment after being hurt in a tackle that could also have been punished by a penalty try.
Only on Monday, World Cup referees chief Alain Rolland warned the competing nations that officials would punish high tackles with greater severity, even if that means games were being blighted by red cards.
It comes amid World Rugby’s drive to reduce instances of concussion by clamping down on dangerous hits.
High Tackle Sanction Framework— Ross Tucker (@Scienceofsport) September 21, 2019
Shoulder or high? Shoulder, because the right arm is behind plane of body on contact
1. Head contact? Y
2. Danger? Automatically high for shoulder -> head
Entry point = red
3. Mitigation? No
Final = red
I also don't know why it wasn't referred... pic.twitter.com/bwTPSsA7bF
Fiji head coach John McKee adopted a stoical view on an incident that is sure to result in a citing for Hodge.
“I haven’t seen footage of the incident yet, but maybe some people will look at it. We haven’t spoken to the TMO yet,” McKee said.
“The referee has a tough job out there. There’s a lot going on. We maybe didn’t get the rub of the green, but we have no complaints about the referee.
“We take a lot out of that game and we are still in this tournament. We will be watching how Wales and Australia go. We’re still in this tournament.”
Waqaniburotu revealed that the tackle was missed by New Zealand referee O’Keeffe.
“He said he didn’t see anything so it will be referred to the TMO. We will just have to see what happens,” Waqaniburotu said.
Australia head coach Michael Cheika also said he did not see the tackle, but noted that “the collision was a massive one and a try-saver”.
Cheika added: “Fiji came out with a lot of aggression and they caught us on the hop early on. But we got out of it with a bonus-point win, so it’s a good start for us.”
Cheika also questioned why the officials were having an ongoing discussion during the match about his blindside flanker David Pocock.
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Ireland back-rower Peter O’Mahony has backed playmakers Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton to “look after themselves” whatever strong-arm tactics Scotland might attempt in Sunday’s World Cup opener.
Scrum-half Murray hit out at Glasgow’s “very dangerous” attempts to take out his standing leg when kicking back in a European clash in January 2017.
Scotland have continually tried to unsettle Ireland’s stellar British and Irish Lions playmaking duo, and Murray’s Munster team-mate O’Mahony fully expects more of the same in Yokohama this weekend.
“Look, it hasn’t come into our thinking. It’s a Test game, half-backs are always targeted,” O’Mahony said.
“Jacob’s already spoken about Finn Russell. If you can get to the other team’s playmakers it gives you advantage and that isn’t something that’s new in Test Rugby.
“And it isn’t going to be any different tomorrow. So front-foot ball, solid set-piece, having the ability to get ourselves into the game and starting well is paramount for us.
“So Johnny and the boys are well able to look after themselves.”
The 59-cap flanker O’Mahony said Ireland had been waiting for this World Cup to kick-off for so long their eagerness for a strong start had hit fever pitch.
Ireland suffered a record 57-15 loss to England at Twickenham just last month, but rebounded with back-to-back victories over Wales.
Joe Schmidt’s side enter this tournament as the world’s number-one ranked team. But while New Zealand remain the bookmakers’ favourites for a third World Cup triumph in succession, Ireland are itching to make good on their vows to hit their peak at exactly the right time.
Asked if Ireland, and especially the forwards, were ready to hit new heights in Japan, O’Mahony said: “I think you have to think you’re ready, you’ve been waiting for this for a long time.
“It’s the game everyone’s been waiting for. And 18 months ago we spoke about it briefly, but when you’re playing big tournaments it kind of catches up with you. All of a sudden you’re into the World Cup pre-season.
“But now it’s here, and it’s the one where everyone wants to start well and perform well.
“We’ve had a great pre-season and you have to think and believe we’re ready to go.”
O’Mahony said Ireland had been “taken aback” by the depth of the welcome from the Japanese public.
The 30-year-old said Ireland would now aim to take that feel-good factor into their World Cup bid.
“We’re a very proud nation, a proud squad; to be from Ireland and to get an opportunity to play for Ireland is something that no one takes lightly,” said O’Mahony.
“Whether you’re in the 31, 23, or starting fifteen, it’s a huge honour to be here playing in a World Cup in Japan.
“That’s the overwhelming thing, with regard to the team, we’ve had a fabulous welcome from the Japanese people and we’re certainly very grateful for that.
“I was lucky enough to be here 10 years ago and experience a lot of the cultures here.
“But the welcome this time has been absolutely incredible, and a lot of the guys have been taken aback by that.
“We’d consider Ireland a very welcoming country, but Japan take that to a different level.”
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Australia found salvation in their driving lineout as they survived a scare to dispatch Fiji 39-21 in their Rugby World Cup opener at the Sapporo Dome.
The two-time champions trailed by nine points until they seized the lead for the first time in the 62nd minute before galloping out of sight, the Islanders unable to absorb unrelenting set-piece pressure.
Two identical tries, that saw hooker Silatolu Latu driven over on both occasions, swung the game and Australia then ran amok against deflated opponents – who knew the mighty World Cup upset they had threatened was gone.
Wales are competing with the Wallabies for top spot in Pool D but there was little on display here to overly concern Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam champions, especially as the final scoreline was distorted by Fiji’s collapse.
Likewise, Australia’s possible quarter-final opponents England, whose wily head coach Eddie Jones will have seen his countrymen dominated and rattled until finding the route out of trouble.
Both teams invited early pressure onto themselves but Fiji also shone and, inside 10 minutes, they had built an 8-0 lead.
"I'm not going to complain at all..."@wallabies head coach Michael Cheika gives respect to @fijirugby after a tough encounter in their opening #RWC2019 match #AUSvFIJ#SuperSaturday pic.twitter.com/B0nAMsfhKA— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 21, 2019
Australian tacklers were scattered by Josua Tuisova during a rampaging run down the right wing and openside Peceli Yato was on hand to finish the attack.
Fiji were looking the better coached team until Michael Hooper side-stepped over from close range after a series of raids down the left.
It was only brief respite as Fiji renewed their onslaught, harvesting six more points from Ben Volavola’s boot, but Australia were far more ruthless in possession and when they next visited the 22 a try was worked for wing Reece Hodge.
The Wallabies needed to settle quickly into the second half but instead they gifted the Islanders their second try as a botched midfield move presented Waisea Nayacalevu with the loose ball.
Shrugging off a tackle, the outside centre ran almost half the pitch to cross under the posts with a swallow dive before being mobbed by the replacements bench, who were warming up nearby.
There was an air of inevitability to Australia’s next try as repeated lineout drives ended with Latu crossing and, with Levani Botia sin-binned for killing the ball, they produced a carbon copy with the same player going over once again.
The floodgates were now open as Fiji collapsed, with Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete completing a one-sided scoreline that was unkind to the Islanders.