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War of words between Fiji, Australia at Rugby World Cup

Australia’s centre James O’Connor consoles a Fiji player after victory in their Rugby World Cup Pool D match © AFP / WILLIAM WEST

TOKYO, Japan, Sep 24 – Fiji coach John McKee lashed out Tuesday at Australian counterpart Michael Cheika, suggesting the Wallaby has a different idea of the “spirit of the game” amid a row over a high tackle.

The two have been at loggerheads over a no-arms high tackle by Wallaby winger Reece Hodge that left Peceli Yato concussed, and which earned him a disciplinary hearing due on Wednesday after a Fijian referral.

Fiji were up 11-7 when the incident occurred, with many commentators saying the tackle had prevented a certain score and should have resulted in a penalty try for the underdogs — and a red card for Hodge.

“From our side we lost a player who was nearly the most influential player on the park at that time of the game, for the rest of the game, and because of the head injury he can’t play in this game (Wednesday versus Uruguay) either,” McKee told reporters on Tuesday.

“Maybe Michael Cheika’s views of what’s within the spirit of the game are slightly different to some other people, but it’s not up to me to decide what exactly he meant by that comment,” fumed McKee, a New Zealander.

On Monday, Cheika had accused Fiji of going behind his back in referring the tackle after the coaching staff of both teams had enjoyed a “friendly discussion”.

“To get a referral from them in the way it was referred, that was really disappointing,” said Cheika.

“I’d prefer they come up to me and get upset with me if they’re really upset about it, not to talk to me in that nice sort of friendly chat and go behind your back and put it in a referral.”

In a pulsating Pool D encounter, Australia eventually ran out 39-21 winners but were behind well into the second half as the Flying Fijians produced a dazzling display of attacking rugby combined with bruising hits.

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As for the tackle itself, Cheika seemed to have been oblivious to it.

“I was surprised it was cited. I personally didn’t even notice,” said Cheika. “I didn’t even see it in the game.”

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