Rugby World Cup referees under fire on opening weekend

Sapporo (Japan) (AFP) –


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.

Wallaby wing 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, who could yet face a citing. Fiji were leading 11-7 at the time of the incident in a match.

"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, said was "not particularly surprised" that New Zealand referee Ben O'Keeffe failed to notice a type of incident that is "incredibly difficult to spot with absolute clarity live".

But he 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: "I can assure you that from the referees themselves there is absolutely no difference in application between teams in Tier One and Tier Two."

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.