Ireland centre Bundee Aki attended a disciplinary hearing on 14 October having received a red card from referee Nic Berry for an act of foul play contrary to Law 9.13 (dangerous tackle) in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool A match against Samoa on 12 October.
The independent Judicial Committee was chaired by Adam Casselden SC (Australia) joined by former international coach Frank Hadden (Scotland) and former referee Valeriu Toma (Romania).
The player sought to overturn the red card. Having considered all the angles of the incident, together with evidence from the player and his representatives, the committee upheld the decision of the referee.
The committee considered the High Tackle Sanction Framework and decided the following:
- 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
Therefore, on the balance of probabilities, the committee did not find that the referee’s decision was wrong and the red card was upheld.
Given the above outcomes, the committee applied World Rugby’s mandatory minimum mid-range entry point, which was introduced in 2017 to protect player welfare, deter high contact and prevent head injuries. This resulted in a starting point of a six-week suspension.
Taking into account the mitigating factors that are considered in relation to sanction, including the player’s good disciplinary record, the committee reduced the six-week entry point by the maximum permitted three weeks, resulting in a sanction of three weeks, which equates to three matches in the context of Rugby World Cup 2019.
Aki will miss Ireland’s quarter-final against New Zealand on 19 October, the semi-final and final of Rugby World Cup 2019 should Ireland qualify or should Ireland not qualify for these games, the player’s next club match or matches with Connacht in the PRO14 on his return from international duty.