High tackles, a tropical storm and gongs: five talking points at Rugby World Cup

Peceli Yato of Fiji takes on Reece Hodge of Australia during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group D game between Australia and Fiji at Sapporo Dome on September 21, 2019 in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan.
Peceli Yato of Fiji takes on Reece Hodge of Australia during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group D game between Australia and Fiji at Sapporo Dome on September 21, 2019 in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan.
Image: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

From head-high tackles to howling gales, here are some of the top talking points so far at the Rugby World Cup:

Tackling high tackles 

Before the World Cup, many feared a zero-tolerance approach to high tackles would result in a rash of red cards but it was the lack of a sending-off that sparked controversy on the opening weekend.

Australia wing Reece Hodge blocked Fiji flanker Peceli Yato with a shoulder-led, no-arms challenge to the head, preventing what looked to be a certain score.

A dazed Yato failed a head injury assessment and played no further part, while Hodge was later cited for the incident that many argued should have led to a penalty try.

Several commentators criticised the decision, with former top referee Jonathan Kaplan saying he had "absolutely no idea" how Hodge avoided seeing red. The winger faces a citing hearing on Wednesday.

The HIA protocol also came under the spotlight as World Rugby had to change their rules after All Black flanker Sam Cane was prevented from returning even after passing his assessment.

He had to traverse the vast Yokohama Stadium and took more than the maximum 10 minutes from leaving the field to returning, leaving head coach Steve Hansen "pretty unhappy".

Officials tweaked the regulations to give players 10 minutes starting from when reaching they reach the assessment room, not from when they leave the pitch.

Closing the gap

Japan 2019 has been billed as the most open World Cup yet and officials who have worked hard to close the gap between global rugby's haves and have-nots will be pleased after the opening round of games.

It is early days but there are encouraging signs. Tonga gave England a bruising battle, only conceding the fourth, bonus-point try in the 77th minute. It was a far cry from the 101-10 thrashing they suffered against England in 1999.

Fiji ran Australia ragged in the early stages of their game in Sapporo and looked like pulling off a major shock before tiring in the second half and going down 39-21.

And Namibia -- on paper the weakest side in the competition ranked 23 -- were first on the scoresheet against Six Nations side Italy, who did not have things all their own way in wet and windy conditions at the Hanazono Stadium.

After four first-half tries against Georgia, many were expecting Wales to rout their lowly opposition but the Lelos fought back in the second period.

'Gutless' refereeing

In addition to the high tackle debate, referees found themselves under fire on the opening weekend.

Argentina coach Mario Ledesma fumed that his team was being refereed like a "small nation" after Angus Gardner failed to award Los Pumas a penalty in a last-gasp 23-21 loss to France.

This earned Ledesma a rebuke in Argentine media, with La Nacion newspaper saying: "In any club in Argentina, boys learn that 'the referee is always right'." He later apologised.

Meanwhile New Zealand captain Kieran Read, speaking onfield, accused referee Jerome Garces of a "pretty gutless" decision during the All Blacks' 23-13 win over South Africa.

The experienced Frenchman had decided a penalty alone was sufficient punishment for South Africa wing Makazole Mapimpi lying over the ball, having tackled Richie Mo'unga five metres short of the line.

Only in Japan

Organisers awarded the World Cup to Japan in the hope of spreading the rugby gospel to new horizons in Asia and the games have had a distinctive Japanese flavour.

As players enter the stadium, musicians play Japanese traditional instruments such as wadaiko - Japanese drums - and hyoshigi, consisting of two pieces of hardwood which is used for kabuki theatres.

A type of shout often used in kabuki and noh theatres is played for kick-off, and a loud and distinctive gong sounds half- and full-time.

Japanese fans have been turning out enthusiastically to support the World Cup - advertised here as a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to watch the world's best.

Even Italy-Namibia in torrential rain was played to a packed stadium of fans cowering in ponchos.

All types of conditions 

Much of the talk in the run-up to the tournament was about the weather. Would it be too humid? Would there be a typhoon? Would the ball be too slippery?

In the event, there was a tropical storm over the first weekend but it narrowly missed the matches, mainly lashing the sea. The Italy-Namibia game caught the edge of it however and saw 10 minutes of absolutely torrential rain plus fierce wind.

In contrast, England and Australia both played under the roof at the Sapporo dome. Rain and wind were obviously not a factor there but fullbacks had to contend with the glare from the lights that are especially bright on the touchlines and corners.

- AFP

 

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