Tokyo: Australia were dealt a blow ahead of their Rugby World Cup Pool D showdown against Wales when long-range goal-kicking winger Reece Hodge was banned on Wednesday for three matches for a high tackle in the Wallabies’ opening game against Fiji.
Fiji were leading 11-7 when Hodge charged into Peceli Yato, leaving the Fiji flanker concussed. The Wallabies winger went on to score a try and kick a penalty as Australia won 39-21.
Hodge was cited after the match and went before an independent disciplinary committee in Tokyo on Wednesday.
The ban means the 25-year-old Melbourne Rebels player, capable of slotting in anywhere in the backline, will miss Australia’s remaining three Pool D games against Wales on Sunday, Uruguay in Oita on October 5 and Georgia in Shizuoka six days later.
The disciplinary committee “deemed that the incident was an act of foul play and warranted a red card in line with the high tackle sanction framework”, World Rugby said in a statement.
It added that the tackle was “reckless, rather than deliberate”, but contact with the head meant a high degree of danger.
Given Hodge’s “exemplary disciplinary record, good character and conduct at the hearing, the committee reduced the six-match entry point by three matches”.
Fiji’s shock 30-27 defeat by Uruguay on Wednesday has now shaped Pool D into a straight contest between Australia and Wales to seal the winner and runners-up spots to reach the quarter-finals, for which Hodge would be eligible.
Assistant coach Nathan Grey said earlier on Wednesday that the Australian management were “pretty confident the judicial system will look after itself”.
“We’ll have to deal with that whatever the outcome is,” Grey added.
“You’d be crazy as a management not to manage both ways, so whether he’s there or not, we’ll be ready to go.”
Full-back Kurtley Beale said he was “confident Reece will have a fair hearing”, adding that the players had not discussed it.
“As a player, you want your teammate to play. I think Reece has done a fantastic job on the wing.
“To his credit, he really threw himself into those tackles. He’s got no malice in trying to go out there and do wrongdoing.”
Hodge’s potential absence, Beale said, would be more than made up for by Dane Haylett-Petty, who enjoyed an eye-catching cameo against Fiji off the bench.
“We’re confident as a back three, whoever’s in those positions, we will get the job done,” Beale said.