Bundee Aki’s World Cup fate is set to be decided in Tokyo on Monday after the Ireland centre was called to a disciplinary hearing over his red card in the bonus-point victory over Samoa.
Aki was dismissed by Australian referee Nic Berry in the 28th minute of the 47-5 Pool A win that guarantees Ireland’s progress to the knockout stages, regardless of the outcome of today’s clash between host nation Japan and Scotland, which was given the go-ahead by World Rugby following a safety evaluation at Yokohama International Stadium in the wake of Typhoon Hagibis.
While the rest of the Ireland squad will be concentrating on that game, the result of which will determine whether they finish first or second in Pool A and therefore decide if Pool B winners New Zealand or runners-up South Africa will be their quarter-final opponents in Tokyo next weekend, Aki will be concentrating on remaining in the tournament.
He was duly cited today for his red card, given for a high hit on Samoa’s Ulupano Seuteni that was deemed an act of foul play contrary to Law 9.13 (dangerous tackle) and must now attend a hearing at 11:30 Irish time on Monday in Tokyo in front of an independent Judicial Committee comprising chair Adam Casselden SC (Australia), former Scotland coach Frank Hadden and former referee Valeriu Toma (Romania).
Aki will also have IRFU legal counsel Derek Hegarty in his corner as he looks to avoid further punishment which could rule him out for the rest of the World Cup.
Former Terenure and Leinster scrum-half Hegarty flew into Tokyo today and will walk into a tournament where organisers have ordered a clampdown on high tackles that has seen Australia’s Reece Hodge and Samoan duo Motu Matu’u and Rey Lee-Lo each receive three-game suspensions for dangerous tackles.
That said, England’s Piers Francis escaped punishment at his citing for a high hit on the USA’s Will Hooley.
The centre had gone unpunished during the game, also refereed by Berry, and then avoided a ban in front of a disciplinary committee that also included Hadden, having successfully argued that Hooley’s sudden change of height before the tackle was sufficient mitigation to classify the offence as a yellow rather than red card.
Samoa head coach Steve Jackson echoed Irish post-match views that Aki had minimal reaction time, thought to be 0.2 seconds, before making the tackle on Seuteni, who did not return from a Head Injury Assessment following the incident.
Ireland assistant coach Andy Farrell had said last week that he felt sorry “for everyone who gets a red card” in such circumstances and today said: “I don't know anyone playing the game now in world rugby that means to do anything that warrants a red card... I'll keep my powder dry until after the process on this one.
"We haven't had the referee's report yet, so it's very hard to comment. We believe that in the next 36 hours, there will be a hearing so we'll see how that goes. We'll wait for the report.
"It's tough, isn't it? It's tough the reaction stuff. It's very tough to judge. You can slow everything down and everyone has a comment, 'Oh, what if this happened? What if that happened?' But I'd like to think there's a bit of feel in and around the whole situation."