Michael Cheika launched a stinging attack on World Rugby following the three-match ban received by the Australia wing Reece Hodge for a tackle his head coach argues was not even worth a penalty.
Hodge was cited after the match against Fiji for a high challenge that left the flanker Peceli Yato concussed. The match officials took no action after reviewing the incident, but the wing was summoned to appear before a disciplinary panel this week and found guilty.
Cheika was speaking at Australia's base in Tokyo Bay having announced his side to face Wales here on Sunday. It contains four changes from line-up against Fiji, all in the back division, and the match-day squad contains 1,287 caps, more than 50 a man, one of the highest in the tournament's history.
Cheika was angry not only at the ban but criticism of the Wallabies in the panel’s judgement after Hodge had said in his evidence that he had no knowledge of World Rugby’s decision-making framework for high tackles and had not been trained on it. “This was of some general concern,” the judgement said.
Cheika volunteered to speak about the issue at the start of his team media conference. “There has been some chat about the players not being told about the framework: the judge put it in there. I want to make a couple of points. The framework is for referees, not the players, and used to decide whether there are red or yellow cards in a game. In my view, the officials in this tournament are using that framework very well.
“Second, our players are coached to tackle around the middle where they can dislodge the ball. We do not need the framework to tell them how to tackle. I am not sure where that is coming from and I do not know why it was put in the judgement.
“Reece was nervous while giving his evidence. There are people starving out there but they flew a QC over. When people are asking you questions and you have done nothing wrong you are nervous and may not have answers to all the questions on the top of your tongue. We thought we would just mention it. People are making a point about us so we thought we would make one back – a bit of tennis.
“I do not know why they did it. I do not particularly want to talk about this today because there is a part of it which is us versus everyone else. We know that and we are not going to let it derail us. We will suck it up and get focused on what is important – the match on Sunday. We are not going to let them get to us. We will concentrate on our footy and do our best for Australia.”
Australia have until Saturday lunchtime to appeal, although as Hodge irregularly had his ban halved for mitigating circumstances despite pleading not guilty he would face being given an extra three matches if unsuccessful.
“It will be up to Reece predominantly,” said Cheika. “We will see what he reckons and go from there. We have talked about it with the players. No one believes that what Reece did met the red card threshold because of the framework they have in place. It was interesting that they acknowledged he did not meet the criteria in the framework for a red card tackle but said they could bring in other factors if they wanted to.
“I am not going to be put off course by anyone, not the man chairing the hearing or anyone else. I am with my players. I am as disappointed as Reece is but no obstacle will derail us. I do not care what World Rugby are doing. If there is one bloke they are not listening to it’s me, no matter what language I speak to them in.
“I am respected by my players and together we will battle away. What is clear is that the framework is not the litmus test. There must be another layer: we asked what it was at the hearing but were not told. We will tell our players to keep tackling low and middle and do our best.”
Hodge will be replaced by Adam Ashley-Cooper – who will win his 120th cap – for the match against Wales, which is likely to decide who emerges top from Pool D. Bernard Foley returns to the halves alongside Will Genia and Dane Haylett-Petty will wear the No 15 jersey. There is no place for Kurtley Beale or Nic White in the starting XV; both players shift to the bench. Five-eighth Christian Lealiifano, who struggled against Fiji in Australia's opening Rugby World Cup match, has been dropped entirely.
The drastic backline overhaul was not down to form, Cheika said. “Just a different picture,” he said. “We thought about this from the very start. We had a plan of different pictures we wanted to produce. It’s a really tight go across the board in our team in a lot of positions. We know Wales are a very strong team. We know we’ll have to be on for 80 [MINUTES]to have success against this team.”
Meanwhile Alun Wyn Jones will become Wales' most-capped player with his 130th cap against Australia. Wales head coach Warren Gatland has named an unchanged team, with one switch among the replacements. Ospreys centre Owen Watkin takes over from Leigh Halfpenny.
Australia: Dane Haylett-Petty; Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O'Connor, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Scott Sio, Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa; Izack Rodda, Rory Arnold; David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Isi Naisarani.
Replacements: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Nic White, Matt To'omua, Kurtley Beale.
Wales: Liam Williams; George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis; Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones; Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Aaron Shingler, Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Owen Watkin.