'Refs are going to go nuts'
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Former Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock fears the decision to ban Reece Hodge will spark a red-card frenzy that could cost a team the World Cup.
Hodge was scrubbed out of Australia’s remaining three pool games, including Sunday’s group-defining showdown with Wales, after being found guilty of a dangerous tackle at a judicial hearing in Tokyo on Wednesday.
The goalkicking wing’s high tackle on Fiji forward Peceli Yato in Saturday’s win in Sapporo was deemed to have met the red-card threshold in a decision that has left Hodge shellshocked.
Hodge and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika were supremely confident he’d escape further sanction after match officials opted not to take any action against the 25-year-old during the game.
“It’s a stitch-up,” Mortlock told AAP on Thursday.
“All the refs are going to go nuts on cards so I feel like it’s going to really affect the outcome of this World Cup and that’s very, very disappointing.
“And it’s really unfortunate for ‘Hodgie’ because obviously he’s been made an example of and moving forward you can imagine that all players in the tournament are going to be treated the same way.
“So effectively the two Samoan guys who have been cited, I’ll be very interested to see [how] harshly sanctioned they are.”
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Mortlock said he “totally” understood the logic behind World Rugby clamping down on dangerous play.
“But all the rugby players who have been playing the game for five, 10, 15 years, they have an ingrained technique that’s very, very hard to change and in particular in Test-match rugby it’s ramped up another level.
“And at a Rugby World Cup, you’re under immense pressure, fatigue and more often than not you’ll revert to what you’ve always done.
“Going into Hodge’s specific case, there were at least a couple of times where he went in low and he absolutely got run over the top of like he was a speed bump.
“So he adapted and tried to go higher to make sure he didn’t absolutely get run over the top of, which as a player is what you would try to do. Unfortunately, he just got it too high.”
Mortlock, Australia’s captain at the 2007 World Cup in France, is in Japan with several other former Wallabies, whom he said all shared his concerns for the rest of the tournament.
“Prior to the World Cup, other ex-Wallabies that I caught up with we were all in agreement that we really hoped that this World Cup wasn’t affected by red cards,” Mortlock said.
“But I’m now drawn to the conclusion that that’s categorically going to happen.”
The Wallabies have until Friday night to appeal Hodge’s ban. If not, he will become available if Australia qualify for the quarter-finals.