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Ireland fear big Bundee Aki ban despite Samoan support after World Cup red card

Tusi Pisi of Samoa embraces Bundee Aki after the game.
Tusi Pisi of Samoa embraces Bundee Aki after the game.

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt expects Bundee Aki to be hit with a suspension that could rule him out of the rest of the World Cup, despite Samoa's coach and captain expressing their support for the centre to escape a ban after his red card.

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Although he defended his player for his high shot that forced out-half Ulupano Seutini off with a head injury, the Ireland head coach said the red card will make it difficult for Aki to avoid further censure.

Aki became the fourth Irish player to be sent off in history and the first at a World Cup. He follows Willie Duggan, Jamie Heaslip and CJ Stander into the club nobody wants to be part of.

And, while he will remain with Ireland for the rest of the tournament, Aki's tournament could be over after this 47-5 victory in Fukuoka.

"I spoke to Steve Jackson, he has obviously suffered from a couple of red cards and citings of his players and it's a really tough situation," Schmidt said.

"I think Bundee is upright, you can see both of his hands behind the shoulder blades of the player who is just starting to come up.

"It's all split-second stuff.

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"We live in hope, we'll see what the judiciary decide but once it's a red card you sense a loss of control over what happens next.

"No matter what you try to present, there is a very hard line and I certainly feel for Bundee. He is pretty devastated that his tournament, any further participation in the tournament is now at risk."

Jackson said he would support Aki, but he can't appeal the card until the disciplinary committee have met to adjudicate any ban.

Schmidt appreciated the sentiment from his opposite number.

"Yeah, I think Steve was a good player himself who has been coaching Super Rugby and coaching for some time," he said.

"I think he knows the game well, we'd both be pretty disappointed if Bundee does get ruled out of the rest of the tournament on the back of that tackle.

"I do genuinely say tackle, because that's what it was. Both arms, both hands are behind the shoulders but there is a very hard line being taken and we'll just have to accept whatever decision is taken by the judiciary.

"We are happy with the result and a number of things about the performance but we are disappointed we didn't manage to finish the game with 15 players.

"We'll look at that and try to come up with what we believe is some reasoning behind that.

"I'll have to review it and have a really close look. I rate [referee] Nic Berry, I think he's a very good referee.

"The TMO, Rowan Kitt, is a very good operator so it's hard to argue with at the moment but it's pretty devastating for Bundee.

"He knows a lot of the Samoan players very well, they've got a lot of respect for him. For us it's a really disappointing finish to the night."

Samoa skipper Jack Lam offered his support to Aki who spent the post-game period mingling with his friends in the Islanders' squad.

"No hard feelings at all. We just said to Bundee how we feel. There's no hard feelings, he knew what he'd done," he said.

"I'll just add that hopefully it doesn't get ruined by him missing a couple of weeks out of the game. Hopefully we get to see him in the finals."

Jackson and his team have been through the ringer when it comes to the tackle laws during this tournament and lost hooker Seilala Lam to a yellow card for a high shot on Jacob Stockdale early in the game.

"Look, I don't know if I should really comment on it," he began.

"Again, it's the mitigating factors again, whether they drop in height and those sort of things. As you all know, it's the toss of a coin at the moment.

"Nic Berry refereed the game really well.

"I've known Bundee for a long, long time and what a great man he is, he's got great character and he doesn't go out there to do that that anybody.

"As Jack said, hopefully the powers that be see some sense and hopefully he gets to continue on in this tournament because he's a great kid and he deserves it as much as most.

"Again, as we've seen if there is any contact with the head, people have been penalised.

"We lost a couple of players but, as Jack said, I hope no further sanction comes to him because I hope he can go further in this tournament and play everything. We'll do everything we possibly can from a Samoan perspective to make sure that he gets on that field next week.

"People don't go out there to make head contact. I think Joe said it in a coaches' briefing before the tournament.

"Yes, we ended up with UJ having a HIA (Head Injury Assessment) but there's more concussions that come from tackles around the knee and people getting kneed in the head.

"Was there malice in Bundee's tackle? No, he's just physical in the collisions being a Samoan boy. There's always that mitigating factor about how low did someone go.

"Defenders have got to make decision within a split second. If you look at Bundee's tackle again, UJ came with the ball at pace and I think he only had two or three metres to make a decision as to what sort of tackle he might put in.

"That's what they're asking the players to do now, in a spilt second you've got to make the right decision about what sort of tackle you're going to make, which is extremely difficult."

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