Ireland will have to face New Zealand without Bundee Aki after the centre’s World Cup was brought to an end at a disciplinary hearing in Tokyo on Monday.
Aki was handed a three-week suspension for the high tackle on Samoa’s Ulupano Seuteni that earned him a red card in Fukuoka on Saturday. It means the inside centre will miss Saturday’s quarter-final against the All Blacks as well as the semi-final and final should Ireland progress.
Aki and Ireland have 48 hours to appeal from when they receive the full written decision although such appeals are considered risky given that suspensions can be increased as well as reduced or quashed.
An IRFU statement issued shortly after the decision was published read: "The Ireland Management are disappointed with the outcome of Bundee’s hearing and will review the Judicial Committee’s written report once received.”
Aki had attended the hearing with legal counsel Derek Hegarty, IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora and IRFU Performance Analyst Vinny Hammond as Ireland attempted to have the red-card decision by Australian referee Nic Berry overturned.
The independent Judicial Committee, chaired by Adam Casselden SC (Australia) and also comprising former international coach Frank Hadden (Scotland) and former referee Valeriu Toma (Romania) upheld the referee’s on-field decision.
Tournament organisers World Rugby have insisted its High Tackle Sanction Framework be followed to the letter at this World Cup in the interests of player welfare and the pool stages saw three-week bans issued to Samoan pair Ray Lee-Lo and Motu Matu’u, and Australia’s Reece Hodge for similar offences.
Before the hearing Ireland had suggested that the reaction time between Aki’s previous involvement in the game and his tackle on Seuteni had been less than half a second in the hope that would be a mitigating factor but the Judicial Committee laid out a series of reasons why it upheld Berry’s decision in the 28th minute of the 47-5 victory.
The decision read as follows:
- There was direct contact of the player’s left shoulder to the ball carrier’s head
- The Judicial Committee did not accept that there was a low degree of danger
- Although the tackle occurred quickly, the player’s tackle height was high and it was accepted he did not make a definite attempt to change his height in order to avoid the ball carrier’s head
- The committee did not accept that there was sufficient evidence of a sudden drop in the ball carrier‘s height
- The tackle was an attempted dominant tackle, rather than a reactionary tackle, and in any event there was no immediate release as the player wrapped his arms around the Samoa No.10
- The player was in open space and had a clear line of sight before the contact
- There are accordingly no clear and obvious mitigating factors
The statement goes on to say, "Therefore, on the balance of probabilities, the committee did not find that the referee’s decision was wrong and the red card was upheld."
The committee applied World Rugby’s mandatory minimum mid-range entry sanction of a six-week suspension but having taken into account Aki’s previous good disciplinary record, they reduced the sanction by the maximum permitted three weeks.
The suspension means Ireland’s squad will be reduced to 30 players for the rest of the tournament with head coach Joe Schmidt unable to call up a replacement, as is the case with an injury.