World Rugby are facing serious questions over their apparent ‘crackdown’ on high and dangerous tackles, with a second high-profile incident in as many games going unpunished.
Reece Hodge’s try-saving tackle on Fiji flanker Peceli Yato went unpunished despite being referenced to television match official Rowan Kitt, who said that the collision was within the laws.
The incident comes soon after a similar incident in the tournament’s opening game on Friday night, as well as clearouts that went unpunished in warm-up matches involving Ireland’s Devin Toner and Wales’s Ken Owens.
Having already been on the end of three rampaging runs from Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova, Hodge appeared to try and defend himself in the tackle by leading with his shoulder, with no arm visibly wrapping around Yato.
The collision lead to Yato being removed from the game in the 26th minute and going on to fail a Head Injury Assessment, meaning that not only did Yato have to sit out the rest of the match but he will also miss Wednesday’s second match against Uruguay.
Hodge went unpunished for the tackle, and went on to score try nine minutes later that got the Wallabies back to within two points at half-time, before going on to win 39-21.
Speaking after the match, Australia head coach Michael Cheika was happy to back the referee Ben O’Keefe and his officials on the matter.
“I didn’t see it,” said Cheika. “The Fijian captain [Dominiko Waqaniburotu] went up and spoke to the referee and asked him to refer it, which he did. It went to the TMO and he said the tackle was fine. The collision was a massive one and a try-saver.”
Cheika did however accuse Fiji of getting away with infringements at the breakdown, and hit out at the officials for discussing flanker David Pocock from the start of the match in response to being asked for his view on the Hodge tackle.
“The stuff on the ground, I’m not quite sure what’s going on,” Cheika added. “The team of three [officials] were talking about David Pocock before the first minute of the game, and I’m not sure why.
“I heard his name mentioned between them on commentary at least half a dozen times in their own chat when he hadn’t even been involved in the ruck, and I’m not sure what the focus on him is because he’s only played one game since he’s been out all year, I’m not sure what he’s done. But there was a clear focus on him because his name was being called out all the time and I was a little bit surprised by that.”
Sports scientist Ross Tucker, who helped World Rugby come up with the new framework launched this year in order to detail sanctions for high and dangerous tackles, said on Twitter that by the new check-list applied by World Rugby Hodge’s tackle was a straight red card.
The incident follows a similar issue in Japan’s victory over Russia in Friday night’s curtain-raiser, when Japan lock James Moore escaped action for a no-arm tackle on Russia’s Vasily Dorofeev that was referenced on social media by former Namibia captain Jacques Burger as “looks like the officials missed a potential red card”.
Fiji head coach John McKee refused to blame the officials for the defeat, but did rue the loss of both Yato and No 8 Viliame Mata by half-time. “Some injuries didn’t help us – especially losing Peceli Yato early on in the game. Losing him to concussion was a big loss for us. He didn’t pass his HIA. 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.
“The referee has a tough job out there. There’s a lot going on. We maybe didn’t get the rub of the green out there today, but we have no complaints about the referee.”
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