Ireland star banned for rest of World Cup
DISCIPLINARY UPDATE: Bundee Aki will not be available for Ireland’s World Cup quarterfinal meeting against New Zealand after being handed a three-week ban following a disciplinary hearing in Tokyo.
Aki was red-carded in Ireland’s 47-5 defeat of Samoa last Saturday for a high challenge which ended Ulupano Seuteni’s game after just 29 minutes, but the IRFU were hopeful of overturning the decision ahead of their meeting with Steve Hansen’s All Blacks on Saturday.
The player attended the hearing before an independent Judicial Committee chaired by Adam Casselden SC (Australia) joined by former international coach Frank Hadden (Scotland) and former referee Valeriu Toma (Romania).
The Ireland centre’s arm made contact with the Samoa flyhalf’s head as Aki chased onto a loose ball.
Referee Nic Berry felt he had no choice but to send the player off.
“Direct contact to head with high degree of force. I’m not seeing enough to mitigate it down,” Berry said during the game.
The committee upheld the decision of the referee after hearing evidence from the player and his representatives, along with studying all available footage of the incident.
Ireland had flown in special legal counsel to represent Aki at the hearing. Derek Hegarty, a partner at law firm William Fry, previously played for Leinster.
Since Aki was banned, Ireland are not allowed to replace him in their squad, meaning they are now down to a 30-man squad for the remainder of their World Cup campaign.
Joe Schmidt’s centre options for the weekend are Garry Ringrose, Chris Farrell and Robbie Henshaw, who played his first minutes of this World Cup against Samoa on Saturday after recovering form injury.
World Rugby explained their decision in a statement.
“The committee applied World Rugby’s mandatory minimum mid-range entry point, which was introduced in 2017 to protect player welfare, deter high contact and prevent head injuries. This resulted in a starting point of a six-week suspension,” the statement read.
“Taking into account the mitigating factors that are considered in relation to sanction, including the player’s good disciplinary record, the committee reduced the six-week entry point by the maximum permitted three weeks, resulting in a sanction of three weeks, which equates to three matches in the context of Rugby World Cup 2019.”
By Ciarán Kennedy, @RugbyPass