Cheika defends suspended Hodge, feels Wallabies persecuted

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              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)
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TOKYO (AP) — Australia coach Michael Cheika believed suspended winger Reece Hodge misspoke when he claimed not to know World Rugby’s guidance on high tackles.

Hodge was banned this week for the Wallabies’ three remaining Rugby World Cup pool matches for a reckless and dangerous high tackle on Fiji flanker Peceli Yato. In the full report released on Thursday, an independent disciplinary committee noted Hodge “had no effective knowledge” of the framework and said he had not been trained on it. The committee noted its concern.

Cheika made a point Friday to dispute the report before announcing his team to play Wales this weekend.

He said all Australian professionals were made aware of the framework before Super Rugby began, and all of the Wallabies were reminded in July in Brisbane before the test against Argentina.

Captain Michael Hooper, sitting beside Cheika, said there was no need to remind the Wallabies again about high tackles.

“We’re not training to tackle high,” Hooper said. “We’re training to tackle in the way you do a dominant tackle. Reece’s tackle was not dominant, he goes flying off. We’ve got to get our height down and that goes with being an effective tackler.”

Cheika suggested Hodge can’t be thinking about every law when he’s on the field. He turned to Hooper: “Hoops, if you’re going in to make a tackle are you thinking about the framework?”

Hooper: “No.”

Cheika: “There you go.”

Cheika said he and the Wallabies still did not believe Hodge’s right shoulder hitting Yato’s left jaw was a red card offense. The committee said it had “a high degree of danger.” Yato was knocked out by the hit, and the concussion has put in doubt whether he’ll play any of Fiji’s remaining pool games.

So why did Hodge say what he said?

“The guy is already nervous enough as it is,” Cheika said of Hodge’s appearance at the hearing. “When people are asking you questions and you’ve done nothing wrong, you’re nervous, so you may not have the answers to all the questions at the tip of your tongue.”

Cheika said the Wallabies haven’t decided whether to appeal. They have until Saturday. The team has talked about it, and the final decision will be Hodge’s, the coach added.

Cheika also believed the suspension showed Hodge and the Wallabies were being persecuted.

“I’ve spoken to the boys about it, there’s a bit of us versus everyone else,” he said.

“I’m not going to be put off course from that. Not from the man chairing the hearing, or what anyone else says. If there’s one bloke World Rugby is not listening to, it’s me, no matter what language I speak to them in.

“I’m respected by my players here and together we’ll just get on the field and start battling away on Sunday.”

He was satisfied at the news conference that he’d got his points across.

“People are making a point about us, we’ll make the point back,” he said with a smile. “Bit of tennis.”