World Rugby’s pledge to crack down on dangerous play rang hollow as Australia escaped to victory over Fiji, writes Alex Spink in Sapporo.
The Wallabies took the first step towards avoiding a quarter-final against England but found themselves in the eye of a storm.
Five days after referees’ chief Alain Rolland promised no mercy for high tackles, Aussie wing Reece Hodge appeared to get away with one.
His ‘no arms’ hit to the head of Fiji’s star forward Peceli Yato, with the Aussies behind and all at sea, should have brought a red card and a penalty try, extending the Islanders’ lead to 18-7.
Instead Yato was lost to concussion and English TMO Rowan Kitt ruled fair tackle, allowing Hodge to stay on the park and go up the other end and score for the Wallabies.
Ross Tucker, one of the architects of World Rugby’s new high tackle laws, tweeted that it was an open and shut case for a sending off.
Fiji boss John McKee was clearly unhappy but declined to publicly cry foul after his side let slip a 21-12 lead in the final half hour.
“I haven’t seen footage of the incident,” he said, confirming that Yato would now miss Wednesday’s clash with Uruguay. “Maybe some people will look at it.”
That will surely happen but the damage is done. With only two from Australia, Wales and Fiji to qualify, the Islanders are behind the eight-ball.
Aussie boss Michael Cheika claimed not to have seen the Hodge challenge, which came 15 minutes after Yato had brilliantly scored the game’s first try.
‘The collision was a massive one and a try-saver,” he admitted. “But it went to the TMO and he said the tackle was fine.”
To add insult to injury, the tries which settled the game in Australia’s favour were scored by players born, yes, in Fiji.
AUSTRALIA – Tries: Hooper, Hodge, Latu 2, Kerevi, Koroibete. Cons: Lealifano, Toomua 2. Pen: Hodge.
FIJI – Tries: Yato, Nayacalevu. Con: Volavola. Pens: Volavola 3.