"If you want to play touch, go play basketball": Kerevi frustrated by controversial penalty call in Wales loss

Rugby World Cup
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi was left exasperated after being on the wrong end of a controversial penalty in Australia's heart-stopping 29-25 loss to Wales.

Kerevi was carrying the ball and attempted to fend off would-be tackler Rhys Patchell in the 38th minute of the match, when his forearm contacted the 10 high.

Despite Kerevi being the ball carrier, he was told by referee Romain Poite he shouldn't lead with the elbow and was penalised for the contact after it was referred to TMO Ben Skeen and reviewed on the big screen.

The call left Wallabies captain Michael Hooper bemused at the time, with the flanker asking Poite,  “Can’t we run into tackles anymore?...That’s bad, that’s terrible tackle technique.”

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika described the decision as an embarrassment in his post-match press conference and Kerevi was equally frustrated speaking on Sunday night.

"The way that rugby's going I might as well join the NRL next, seeing how they police it," he joked.

"It's a hard decision for the referees, I understand that. I've just got to change my technique, the way I run but I guess everyone's already talking about it.

"I respect what the referees decide and I've got to move on from it."

While Kerevi was speaking tongue-in-cheek about a code switch, already signed to Japanese rugby from next season, he was openly bemused by the decision.

Kerevi has made a career out of barnstorming runs and said he hadn't been pulled up in that situation in the past.

"If you slow it down, that slow it looks like that (it's high) but I've been playing like that for my whole career so that's the first time I've heard I can't lead with my arms and bump but I think the worrying thing is if he's falling and I keep moving forward, which I normally do, just not to touch his head," he said.

"It's hard when you slow it down and 1/10th of a second it seems like I'm going his neck but I'm not.

"There's no malice in it, so I apologise to him but the way rugby's going that's just the ruling now, just love my rugby league so have a look at NRL."

Patchell went on to slot the penalty goal and then the Welsh scored a try through halfback Gareth Davies in the minutes following, leaving the Wallabies in a 15-point hole at the break.

It was that which Kerevi said he was most disappointed by, feeling as though he let his teammates down with the infringement.

"I don't know, tackle tech (says you) should be going low, I thought that's what we wanted to do," he said.

"So, if he's tackling high and I'm going high...this is not a contact sport, this is a collision sport. If you want to play touch, go play basketball.

"We're here to run straight at people, use feet, whatever, but I think he was just doing his job, I'm just trying to do mine.

"I don't have to do too much to change the way I play, the boys are really getting around me and I think I've just got to be more careful not to put our team in that situation because I let the team down, obviously slotted the penalty from there, so that's three points they could've gone without."

The inside centre made a point of speaking to Patchell after the match to apologise for the incident and also waved an apology during the match.

After trailing by as many as 18 points early in the second half, the Wallabies scored 17 unanswered points  to bring things back to a one-point margin with 13 minutes to go, sparking hopes of an incredible comeback.

A late scrum penalty and attacking charge kept stoking the fire but ultimately the single-figure margin that has come to be expected from Wallabies-Wales matches fell to the Welshmen.

The match continues a run of more than a decade in which only two matches between the sides have been decided by more than 10 points, and a rivalry that has become unique in rugby.

🦅 Swoopin’ in. #RWC2019 #AUSvWAL

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With matches against Georgia and Uruguay to come, the Wallabies are still in the box seat to claim a final eight spot, but their knockout draw might look dramatically different.

A win on Sunday would have out them on track to top Pool D, kept them away from the All Blacks until the World Cup final and likely set up a final eight clash with France.

This defeat, though, means they will likely finish second in the pool and face off against the Pool C winner, widely expected to be England.

Japan’s win over Ireland this weekend shows there could still be a bit to play out in both pools but the Wallabies certainly have some work ahead of them to avoid two of the tournament’s biggest heavyweights.

The Welsh looked every bit like Six Nations champions and a team that has recently held the world no. 1 ranking, showing they are more than a one-dimensional side.

By half-time, they had the biggest lead over the Wallabies that they had ever generated in 40 minutes of rugby and Australia were well and truly on the ropes.

The controversial penalty against Kerevi, for high contact in a tackle as the ball carrier, did not help things for the Wallabies, with Wales scoring 10 points quickly after the incident.

The referees certainly made good on their pre-tournament promise to crack down on high contact after a controversial week, with TMO Ben Skeen reviewing a handful of incidents through the game.

Wales wasted no time in trying to get some points on the board with flyhalf Dan Biggar slotting a drop goal after just 38 seconds, sparking the start of a completely frenetic exchange.

The Wallabies were looking for some quick ball movement in attack but one mistake gave Wales halfback Davies the chance to put Wales in dangerous territory.

Winger George North had the first serious chance for Wales but was cleaned up in a tackle close to the line as Australia were forced to prove their defensive capabilities once again.

Eventually Wales found pay from a Biggar cross-field kick that landed in the hands of Hadleigh Parkes, who won the aerial contest against Marika Koroibete and crashed over the line.

The early Welsh scores did nothing to dim the Aussies’ determination to move the ball and move it at a furious pace, hot potato-passing down the line in attack.

The Wallabies used a cross-field kick of their own to nab their first try, to Adam Ashley-Cooper in the 22nd minute, giving him the honour of being Australia’s oldest World Cup try scorer.

A Kerevi break put the Wallabies in dangerous territory and Foley launched one across field for his winger to swallow up and swan dive over the line.

As the Wallabies continued to keep the tempo at a furious pace, Kerevi looked like he was going to charge his way to the line before Biggar forced the ball loose in a textbook tackle, before being taken off for a HIA.

A Foley penalty closed the gap to two points just shy of the half-hour mark but Wales still held the upper hand.

Wales earned a controversial penalty in the 38th minute when Kerevi was pinged after he was tackled by replacement back Patchell, with the TMO deeming his forearm had slipped high as he attempted to break the tackle. 

While those points might have been arguable, the next five-pointer, to Wales halfback Davies, could not be questioned after the nine scored a length of the field try to lengthen their lead to 13 points at the break.

A 44th-minute Patchell drop goal stretched the advantage again but some straight, hard carrying gave the Wallabies the opportunity they’d been waiting for, with fullback Dane Haylett-Petty diving over to make the gap 11 points.

The Wallabies began to build on their territory and possession after that and looked to their driving maul to try and force their way over.

As players called for patience, that persistence paid off with Hooper going over the line in the 63rd minute.

Bernard Foley was replaced at the half-time mark, putting Matt To’omua at 10 after the break, with Kurtley Beale coming on at fullback not long after, with Dane Haylett-Petty moving to the wing.

To'omua had a strong outing, with his accuracy off the boot a major boost as the match ticked on, and though Haylett-Petty wasn't entirely peppered with high kicks, he swallowed pretty much every one directed his way.

A To’omua penalty made the margin just one point with 13 minutes to go and nervous fans from both sides were having flashbacks of the last decade of agonising finishes to Australia-Wales matches.

Patchell had the chance to slot another one for Wales, leaving the margin at four points with eight minutes remaining.

A Kurtley Beale forward pass put the teams into a series of scrum restarts and Wales were content to let the clock keep ticking over.

It was the Wallabies who came up with the penalty and the chance to steal the game in the dying minutes.

Izack Rodda got a hand to the Welsh lineout to keep the Wallabies’ hopes alive, looking for a turnover deep in their attacking zone and while they eventually won possession, it was the Welsh to had the ball when the full-time whistle blew and immediately kicked to touch.

Australia travel to Oita on Thursday ahead of a clash with Uruguay next Saturday.


Australia 25

Tries: Ashley-Cooper, Haylett-Petty, Hooper

Cons: To’omua 2

Pens: Foley, To’omua

Wales 29

Tries: Parkes, Davies

Cons: Biggar, Patchell

Pens: Patchell 3

Drop: Biggar, Patchell