SYDNEY, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Australia's media has reacted with fury to the decision to ban Wallabies winger Reece Hodge for three World Cup matches for a dangerous tackle with Sydney's Daily Telegraph describing it as "farcical".
Hodge caught Fijian flanker Peceli Yato in the head with a tackle in the 26th minute of the Pool D opener in Sapporo on Saturday, but was cleared of an offence by the matchday officials.
He was cited on Sunday and will now miss Australia's crunch clash with Six Nations champions Wales on Sunday as well as the matches against Uruguay on Oct. 5 and Georgia on Oct. 11.
"In a stunning decision that is sure to draw furious criticism from former players and fans alike who thought the tackle was accidental, the disciplinary committee found Hodge guilty of 'an act of foul play'," the Telegraph report said.
In a four-hour disciplinary hearing on Wednesday, the committee decided that Hodge was guilty of red card offence but they halved the usual six-week punishment to three because of his exemplary record and good conduct.
Rugby Australia, several media outlets reported, argued he had been bracing for contact in the collision and turned his head away from Yato in a bid to avoid a head clash.
Wayne Smith, writing in The Australian, said Hodge was unfortunate to be the first player to face a disciplinary hearing at the tournament.
"With World Rugby having issued a statement in July warning that any foul play involving contact with the head or neck would result in at least a mid-range sanction, there was always the fear he would be made an example of," he wrote.
It is rare that Clive Woodward, who led England to their World Cup final victory over the Wallabies in 2003, gets much good press in Australia but his criticism of the decision was widely shared.
"Totally wrong decision, will have huge implications for the tournament - for me this is a yellow card and no more," Woodward wrote on Twitter.
"Has any of those making this decision ever tried stopping someone as powerful as Yato by wrapping their arms around him? Good luck if you try that!"
World Rugby have made much of their campaign to rid the game of high hits and the fact that the match officials did not penalise Hodge even after reference to the TV pictures will be an embarrassment for them.
Without specifically mentioning the Hodge incident but perhaps to clear the ground for it, World Rugby issued a statement on Tuesday admitting the officiating over the opening weekend had not been up to scratch.
There might be more embarrasment on the way for World Rugby after Samoans Rey Lee-lo and Motu Matu'u were cited for dangerous high tackles on Wednesday after only being shown yellow cards in their match against Russia.
"It's a benchmark that I think they'll look back and regret when the biggest talking point out of this World Cup is refereeing decisions and sanctions," former Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell said of World Rugby on Fox Sports TV.
Hodge can appeal the decision within 48 hours. Rugby Australia have yet to comment on the punishment.
(Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Tokyo, editing by Sam Holmes)
((Nick.Mulvenney@tr.com; +61 2 9321 8190;))