Rugby World Cup 2019: Fiji coach John McKee hits back at Michael Cheika over high tackle row

New Zealander suggests Australian counterpart has a different understanding about what constitutes the 'spirit of the game'

Fiji coach John McKee, left, talks with his Australian counterpart, Michael Cheika, ahead of their Rugby World Cup Group D game on Saturday. Getty
Fiji coach John McKee, left, talks with his Australian counterpart, Michael Cheika, ahead of their Rugby World Cup Group D game on Saturday. Getty

Fiji coach John McKee has hit back at Australian counterpart Michael Cheika, suggesting the Wallaby has a different idea of the "spirit of the game" amid a row over a high tackle.

The two have been at loggerheads over a no-arms high tackle by Wallaby winger Reece Hodge that left Peceli Yato concussed, and which earned him a disciplinary hearing due on Wednesday after a Fijian referral.

Fiji were up 11-7 when the incident occurred, with many commentators saying the tackle had prevented a certain score and should have resulted in a penalty try for the underdogs – and a red card for Hodge.

"From our side, we lost a player who was nearly the most influential player on the park at that time of the game, for the rest of the game, and because of the head injury he can't play in this game [Wednesday versus Uruguay] either," New Zealander McKee said.

"Maybe Michael Cheika's views of what's within the spirit of the game are slightly different to some other people, but it's not up to me to decide what exactly he meant by that comment."

On Monday, Cheika had accused Fiji of going behind his back in referring the tackle after the coaching staff of both teams had enjoyed a "friendly discussion".

"To get a referral from them in the way it was referred, that was really disappointing," said Cheika.

"I'd prefer they come up to me and get upset with me if they're really upset about it, not to talk to me in that nice sort of friendly chat and go behind your back and put it in a referral."

In a pulsating Pool D encounter, Australia eventually ran out 39-21 winners but were behind well into the second half as the Flying Fijians produced a dazzling display of attacking rugby combined with bruising hits.

McKee, meanwhile, has encouraged his players to unwind at the beach, ahead of the Uruguay clash in Kamaishi.

Fijian players are used to throwing a rugby ball around on the beach and playing in the surf growing up on their island nation and with just a four-day turnaround before their next game, McKee believes it could be the best therapy.

"We planned for this short turnaround and from the time of the Rugby World Cup we always knew that we would have to address certain things across this time," he said on Tuesday.

"One of the things we did do upon arriving at our hotel was to use the ocean here for recovery.

"It was something a little bit different but it was very good for our players to swim in the sea water but also it was very relaxing for them and it got their minds relaxed as well.

"Because it isn’t just the physical tiredness, it is the mental tiredness from the big match in Sapporo."

Uruguay, ranked 19th in the world and playing in their first match of the tournament, could be just the tonic for Fiji, who beat Los Tecos 68-7 last year.

However, McKee knows his opponent will be more prepared this time around.

"We know Uruguay are a much improved team now in the World Cup and we expect them to be a bit more physical," he said.

"We expect them, typical of Uruguayan and South American teams, to use their forward pack as a strength and we will have to be very on top of our game in terms of scrums and particularly around our maul defence."

Published: September 24, 2019 02:03 PM

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