Former top referee Jonathan Kaplan said he had “absolutely no idea” how Australia’s Reece Hodge avoided a red card for his tackle on Fiji’s Peceli Yato as officials came under fire on the opening weekend of the Rugby World Cup.
Hodge prevented Yato from scoring a try in the 26th minute of Australia’s tournament-opening 39-21 win on Saturday by blocking the flanker with a shoulder-led, no-arms challenge to the head that saw the Fijian leave the field with concussion.
It looked a clear case for a sending-off and a penalty try, particularly as World Rugby referees chief Alain Rolland had insisted Monday high tackles would be punished severely, even if that meant a rash of red cards.
Yet no on-field action was taken against Hodge, although the Wallaby wing could still be banned after he was cited on Sunday for an act of foul play, with a disciplinary hearing to take place at a date yet to be announced.
Fiji were leading 11-7 at the time of the incident.
“Going into this tournament World Rugby have been very clear about contact with the head and what constitutes a red card under their new High Tackle Sanction framework,” Kaplan wrote in his column for Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
“With that in mind, I have absolutely no idea why Reece Hodge was not sent off for his tackle on Fiji’s Peceli Yato. To me it was completely clear and an almost textbook example of the type of challenge they are trying to outlaw.”
The South African, who took charge of 70 Tests before retiring in 2013, sympathised with New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe for not noticing a type of incident that is “incredibly difficult to spot with absolute clarity live”.
But Kaplan was stunned at the lack of action against Hodge by English television match official Rowan Kitt.
– ‘Wrong call’ –
“On this occasion Kitt ruled that the challenge was legal and I find that extremely surprising,” said Kaplan.
“To let it pass without any sanction whatsoever was clearly the wrong call.”
Many pundits said the incident showed that players from major and smaller rugby nations are treated differently, arguing Yato would have seen red if he had tackled Hodge in similar fashion.
But Kaplan insisted “there is absolutely no difference” in the application of rugby’s complex rulebook between Tier One and Tier Two nations.
Kitt was not alone in having his decisions questioned.
Argentina coach Mario Ledesma said his team had been treated like a “small nation” by referee Angus Gardner after the Australian refused to award his side a last-gasp ruck penalty in an agonising 23-21 loss to France.
Meanwhile, New Zealand captain Kieran Read, speaking onfield, accused referee Jerome Garces of a “pretty gutless” decision after the experienced Frenchman decided a penalty alone was sufficient punishment for South Africa wing Makazole Mapimpi lying over the ball, having tackled Richie Mo’unga five metres short of the line.
Read’s world champion All Blacks did, however, go on to beat the Springboks 23-13 in their heavyweight Pool B clash on Saturday.