Cheika accuses Fiji of going against "the spirit" of rugby

Fiji’s Peceli Yato is tackled by Australia’s Reece Hodge (14) during the Rugby World Cup Pool D game at Sapporo Dome between Australia and Fiji in Sapporo, northern Japan, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (Masanori Takei/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO — Australia coach Michael Cheika accused Fiji counterpart John McKee of being two-faced and going against "the spirit" of rugby by referring winger Reece Hodge for a citing at the World Cup.

Cheika also suggested Monday that the citing went against World Rugby advice to the coaches last week, and undermined match officials.

The day after their Pool D game in Sapporo, Hodge was cited on Sunday for a dangerous, no-arms tackle that prevented Fiji flanker Peceli Yato from scoring a second try in the first half. Yato, hit in the head and neck area by Hodge's shoulder, left the game with symptoms of concussion and was ruled out of Fiji's second pool game against Uruguay on Wednesday.

Fiji players complained at the time to New Zealand referee Ben O'Keefe and requested a video review, but neither the referee nor Television Match Official, who viewed the tackle from two angles, took any action. Australia rallied from nine-points down to win 39-21.

Hodge faces a suspension of up to 10 weeks. Cheika was hoping his hearing could be held Monday.

While disappointed Hodge was cited, Cheika said "probably the most disappointing thing was the Fijians."

"After the game we had a lot of friendly discussion between myself and the coach (McKee). He talked to our other coaches, there was no mention of anything," Cheika said, "and to get a referral from them and the way it was referred, that was really disappointing.

"I don't find the way they brought that (to be) in the spirit of the game at all. I prefer they come up to me, get upset with me if they are really upset with me, not talk to me in that nice, friendly, chitty-chat way and then go behind your back and put in a referral."

Cheika said he believed Hodge will be cleared, but he was also annoyed that he was even cited.

"I was surprised it was cited," Cheika said. "It didn't even register with me. Hodge was thinking (Yato) was going for the corner and he cut inside. It was a good tackle for him to make. And he's the one who got barreled in the end."

Cheika noted World Rugby advised coaches just last week it would be more empathetic to playing situations, and believed the citing weakens the match officials' decisions.

"They called all the coaches to Tokyo for a meeting last Tuesday with the referees' boss and the citing commissioners' boss, Steve Hines, and then with the judiciary committee boss, and they explained the way things would work which all sounded really good.

"They are looking to have a bit more empathy for the game, in footballing situations. But why I say disappointing is the fact Steve Hines mentioned that if the team of four (referee, two assistant referees and the TMO) have dealt with it on the day it would have to be clear and obvious for it to get cited.

"And I think it was pretty clear all the officials dealt with it on the day."

Cheika said the touch judge saw it, the TMO assessed at the footage and the citing "is the lack of confidence in the referees."

"That puts doubt in the referees for the next game ... and that's not fair to them," he said. "They've got that doubt put in them."

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More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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