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A fired-up Michael Cheika insists Reece Hodge’s three-game suspension will not “derail” Australia as they prepare for a blockbuster Rugby World Cup clash against Wales.
Winger Hodge was retrospectively punished for a high tackle on Peceli Yato in the Wallabies’ opening 39-21 win over Fiji in Pool D after the on-field officials took no action.
At his hearing, Hodge said he had not been trained on the new tackling framework and the Australian media reacted with fury to the ban.
Head coach Cheika did not hold back in his criticism before Sunday’s encounter in Tokyo.
“I wanted to say something at the start about some chat around the framework not being spoken to the players,” he said.
“It came out in the judgement, the judge put a bit in there. I want to make a couple of points: the framework is for referees, not the players, to decide whether there are red or yellow cards in a game.
“The guy’s [Hodge] already nervous enough as it is. 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 tip of your tongue.
“People are making a point about us so we thought we would make one back – a bit of tennis.
“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.”
Experienced duo Bernard Foley and Will Genia have been drafted in as two of four changes for Australia against a Wales side they have beaten in 13 of their previous 14 Tests.
However, it was Warren Gatland’s men celebrating victory the last time the teams met in November 2018 and the New Zealander is well aware of the psychological boost that can give Wales.
“Losing games in the last minute in half a dozen contests can be quite demoralising but we really focused on last autumn’s campaign and it was really important to us with two big games against Australia and South Africa,” said Gatland, whose side beat Georgia 43-14 in their opening match.
“Australia was definitely one we went in trying to right the wrongs and coming away with a win it was a typical old-fashioned Test match.”
Captain Alun Wyn Jones is set to make a record-breaking 130th appearance for an unchanged Wales side in a game where victory could potentially provide a more favourable quarter-final tie.
But Gatland is focused purely on the here and now.
“We have not really looked too far ahead. If you do get out of the group all quarter-finals are going to be pretty tough,” he added.
“It is about taking one game at a time and trying to build and create momentum.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Australia – Bernard Foley
Cheika’s decision to drop Kurtley Beale from the starting XV certainly raised a few eyebrows and means they lose
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