CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) - Wallabies coach Michael Cheika believes winger Reece Hodge will be cleared of having carried out a dangerous tackle in Australia’s opening World Cup match when he faces a judicial panel on Wednesday.
The incident was one of the weekend’s most controversial, in the context of World Rugby’s campaign to rid the game of high tackles and the head knocks that often go with them.
Hodge was cited on Sunday for a dangerous tackle on Peceli Yato in the previous day’s opening Pool D match in Sapporo. The collision left the Fijian flanker with concussion and prevented him from continuing the match.
Cheika said that after the briefing given to coaches by World Rugby referees bosses and disciplinary chiefs in Tokyo last week, he had every confidence Hodge would be clear to play Wales on Sunday.
“I was really quite impressed by how they spoke. They talked about empathy with the game rather than coming over with the big stick,” he said.
“I’m confident that we’ll get a fair hearing, and hopefully a quick one, and we can get on with our preparations and Reece will be free to play.”
The Australia coach rejected the idea that World Rugby would make an example of Hodge because of outrage at the winger not being showed the red card in the media, both traditional and social.
Hodge will face a three-man judicial committee in Tokyo on Wednesday at 3 p.m. (0600 GMT) at the request of the Australian team, World Rugby said.
Cheika had said he hoped the hearing would be held on Monday so the team “can get on with preparing for the game”.
World Rugby’s sanctions for a dangerous tackle start with a two-week ban. The mid-level sanction is six weeks, with a potential ban of 52 weeks as the maximum.
Cheika said the winger would receive full support from Rugby Australia’s legal team.
“When lawyers get involved, everyone starts to get a bit edgy,” Cheika said.
“But it’s really simple, show the vision, look at the conditions and the different mitigating circumstances across the whole incident and see what it is.
“And what it is, is a guy’s trying to make a tackle, and it’s pretty clear.”
Cheika, a combative number eight in his playing days, said he had been interested to notice a distinction between the reaction of former players and media pundits.
“I think if you see the conjecture around the place, the majority of footballers, former rugby players who have played the game, said it was not an illegal,” he added.
“It’s not usual we get support from the Poms but (former England coach) Clive (Woodward) and (former England flyhalf) Jonny Wilkinson were saying how difficult that incident is. I guess when you’ve been on the footy field, you understand.”
Cheika said he was disappointed that the matter had not been left to the four match officials at the stadium as well as with how the Fijians went about referring the issue to the citing committee.
“Probably the most disappointing thing was the Fijians, you know,” he said.
“After the game we had a good discussion with myself and the coach. And then to get a referral from them in the way it was referred ... that was really disappointing. I don’t think that was in the spirit of the game, which you’d expect from Fiji.
“I prefer they come up to me and tell me they’re upset if they’re upset about it. Not have all the nice chitty-chat and then behind your back put in a referral. I don’t think I’ve ever referred anyone.”
Writing by Nick Mulvenney; editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Jason Neely