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.
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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