Around the Cup: Uruguay players investigated over assault, property damage allegations

Rugby World Cup
by RUGBY.com.au staff

The Rugby World Cup knockout phase is here.

Keep an eye on this page for news from all the competing teams as the quarter-finals near.

THURSDAY OCTOBER 17

URUGUAY

Japanese police were investigating on Thursday after Uruguay players at the Rugby World Cup allegedly damaged property and tackled a staff member at a Kumamoto nightclub.

Kumamoto police official Kenji Kawazu told AFP that bar staff said players had broken DJ equipment worth $9,000 and shoved one employee to the floor, leaving him with light injuries.

Japanese media reported other damage in the incident, including from players punching walls and mirrors and tearing apart a stuffed teddy bear.

"We asked two Uruguay individuals to come to the police station on a voluntary basis and questioned them on October 14... one is a person who allegedly poured alcohol on DJ equipment, the other allegedly tackled an employee," Kawazu said.

World Rugby said it was "aware of an alleged incident involving members of the Uruguay team in a Kumamoto bar".

"The alleged matter is very disappointing and clearly does not align with the family spirit of the tournament, characterised by the special warmth of welcome between the fans, teams and Japanese public," a statement said.

"An apology has been made on behalf of the tournament and it would be inappropriate to further comment while the facts are being established."

Kawazu said police were called to the bar at 4:00 am on Monday. He said they were "investigating carefully, analysing video and other evidence, to decide if the case constitutes 'property destruction'".

There was no immediate comment from Uruguay, and their official Twitter feed made no mention of the allegations, featuring only images of the team arriving back home.

The Rugby World Cup, which began last month, has largely passed off without incident, despite some raised eyebrows in often-reserved Japan over the occasionally rambunctious behaviour of fans on public transport and elsewhere.

Uruguay won wide praise for their shock 30-27 win over highly fancied Fiji at the World Cup, but exited after they finished bottom of Pool D.

IRELAND

Ireland opted not to appeal Bundee Aki's three-match ban for a high tackle on Thursday, confirming he will miss this weekend's Rugby World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand.

"The Ireland management will not appeal the sanction handed down to Bundee," the Irish Rugby Football Union said in a statement.

"We are disappointed with the outcome and believe that Bundee's time will be best served helping prepare the squad for its remaining RWC19 fixtures."

Aki was shown a red card after his shoulder crashed into the head of Samoa fly-half Ulupano Seuteni during Ireland's 47-5 win in their final Pool A match.

Aki, who has Samoan roots, had even received support from the Samoa team which urged the judicial panel to "see some sense" and spare him a ban.

Ireland added that hooker Sean Cronin had been ruled out of the rest of the World Cup afer he "aggravated a pre-existing neck muscle complaint".

He has been replaced by Ulster's South African-born Rob Herring.

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 16

Ireland are considering appealing Bundee Aki's suspension. Photo: Getty imagesIreland are considering appealing Bundee Aki's three-match suspension but are preparing to be without the centre for Saturday's quarter-final against New Zealand.

New Zealand-born Aki was banned after he received a red card for a high tackle in his side's final Pool A victory against Samoa.

Forwards coach Simon Easterby said Ireland officials would need to see the full report from the disciplinary hearing before they make a decision as to whether to appeal, but given the week was marching on they had to just plan to be without the 29-year-old.

"We're lucky that we have a real good group of players in that midfield, but he's one of those and we'd be disappointed if we don't get to use him," Easterby said.

"Until we've seen the report and know exactly how they came to that decision, we'll probably have to wait until we see that before we make any further comment.

"We like to have as much clarity as possible early in the week and it's now Tuesday. We obviously had a travel day yesterday so we were a little limited in terms of time on the pitch in training.

"At the moment were having to take the take the course of action that Bundee won't be available."

Easterby added that Robbie Henshaw's return to full fitness ahead of the Samoa game was a massive boost for the clash with the All Blacks and he added to the midfield equation for the side.

"We're really fortunate that the medics and Robbie worked particularly hard to get him back up to speed - and him getting through 80 minutes against the Samoans was great to see," Easterby said.

Ireland have never advanced past the quarter-finals at the World Cup and face a massive task to break that curse against the three-times champions.

Joe Schmidt's side, however, have won two of the last three games between the two teams and Easterby said making it three in four would depend on them shutting down the All Blacks ability to accumulate points quickly.

"They're probably most dangerous when it's loose and maybe get a turnover and are able to do what they did against South Africa - and go from 3-0 down to a 17-3 lead very quickly," Easterby said in reference to the All Blacks opening game.

"Things like that can happen very quickly if you're not on your game, so we're fully aware of that.

"We've seen that ourselves in recent games, how dangerous they can be. We know that if you give them a sniff, they'll take their opportunities."

TUESDAY OCTOBER 15

TONGA

Tonga hooker Paula Ngauamo has been suspended for seven weeks. Photo: Getty ImagesTonga hooker Paula Ngauamo has been banned for seven weeks for kicking an opponent in the head during his team's 31-19 win over the United States in their final Pool C match at the Rugby World Cup.

The 29-year-old admitted he had committed foul play to World Rugby's independent judicial committee. The decision leaves him unable to play for his club team Agen in France's Top 14 for the duration of the suspension.

Ngauamo was not sanctioned by match officials during the game on Sunday, but the incident was referred to the committee by the citing commissioner.

"The player admitted that he had kicked his opponent in the face," the committee said in a statement. "The committee agreed and applied World Rugby's mandatory minimum mid-range entry point ... This resulted in a starting point of an eight-week suspension.

"Taking into account the mitigating factors ... including the player's early admission and disciplinary record, the committee reduced the eight-week entry point by one week, resulting in a sanction of seven weeks."

Neither team advanced to the knockout stages. Tonga finishing second to the bottom of Pool C with six points from their four matches. The United States came last with no points.

WORLD RUGBY

Frenchman Jerome Garces will referee Australia's quarter-final against England on Saturday in Oita.

Garces was an assistant for two of Australia's pool matches in the tournament and also blew the whistle for the Wallabies' Bledisloe Test win in Perth in August.

Frenchmen Romain Poite and Mathieu Raynal will be the assistants for the match while Kiwi Ben Skeen will be the TMO.

Aussies Angus Gardner and Nic Berry have both been given assistant slots for the weekend.

Gardner will run touch for New Zealand-Ireland on Saturday while Berry will be on the sideline for Wales-France on Sunday.

Welshman Nigel  Owens will take the reins of the New Zealand-Ireland quarter-final, while Jaco Peyper will be the main referee for Wales-France and Wayne Barnes has been appointed to the Japan-South Africa match.

England vs Australia

Referee: Jerome Garces

AR1: Romain Poite

AR2: Mathieu Raynal

TMO: Ben Skeen

New Zealand vs Ireland

Referee: Nigel Owens

AR1: Pascal Gauzere

AR2: Angus Gardner

TMO: Graham Hughes

Wales vs France

Referee: Jaco Peyper

AR1: Nic Berry

AR2: Paul Williams

TMO: Marius Jonker

Japan vs South Africa

Referee: Wayne Barnes

AR1: Ben O’Keeffe

AR2: Luke Pearce

TMO: Rowan Kitt

JAPAN

Japan have caught their nation's imagination with their quarter-final qualification. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyJapan's stunning Rugby World Cup performances have made the rest of the game "sit up and notice", World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont said Tuesday, vowing more top fixtures for the Brave Blossoms.

Wins over Scotland and Ireland have earned the Japanese team a place in history as the first Asian side to qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals and Beaumont said they now deserved a seat at the top table.

"I think currently the ranking of the Japanese team is seven, which when you've beaten the team that (was) two (Ireland), you sit up and take notice," said Beaumont.

Teams in world rugby are divided into so-called Tier One -- the 10 sides that play in the northern hemisphere Six Nations and the Rugby Championship in the south -- and Tier Two, the level below them.

Japan captain Michael Leitch made a point of saying his team was representing Tier Two in the quarter-final, as the only one of the have-nots to get through to the last eight.

Many coaches from the lower-ranked sides have pointed to a lack of fixtures against the top teams as a reason they have struggled to make progress.

But Beaumont said the number of fixtures between Tier One and Tier Two has increased by some 30 percent.

Rugby fixtures are scheduled some 12 years in advance and one-off games have to fit around the annual competitions of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, as well as international tours and the British and Irish Lions tour.

World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper said the gap between the two groups was closing, despite only Japan making it through the pool stages.

The average points difference in match-ups between Tier One teams and Tier Two teams was 30 points, Gosper said, making Japan 2019 "the most competitive tournament ever".

IRELAND

Ireland's Rugby World Cup hopes took a knock on Monday as centre Bundee Aki was given a three-match ban for a high tackle, ruling him out of the rest of the tournament.

A judicial panel rejected Aki's attempt to overturn his red card after his shoulder crashed into the head of Samoa fly-half Ulupano Seuteni during Ireland's 47-5 win on Saturday.

The decision was announced ahead of Ireland's quarter-final on Saturday against New Zealand, who are going for their third straight World Cup title.

Aki, 29, will miss the World Cup quarter-final, semis and final, if Ireland go that far, or the next club matches with his Irish club, Connacht.

The Irish Rugby Football Union responded with a brief statement.

"The Ireland Management are disappointed with the outcome of Bundee's hearing and will review the Judicial Committee's written report once received," the IRFU said

Aki becomes the latest in a series of players to be disciplined at the World Cup for high tackles, the subject of a crackdown by referees after they were linked to concussions.

Aki, who has Samoan roots, had received support from the Samoa team which urged the judicial panel to "see some sense" and spare him a ban.

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

"Hopefully the powers that be see some sense and hopefully he gets to continue on in this tournament."

MONDAY OCTOBER 14

SAMOA

Bundee Aki was sent off for a high tackle in Ireland's win over Samoa. Photo: Getty ImagesSamoa coach Steve Jackson says his team will do whatever it can to ensure that Ireland star Bundee Aki is available to play in the remainder of the Rugby World Cup after another red card was handed out in their match against the Irish.

Ireland centre Aki was red-carded for a high tackle on Samoa's Ulupano Seuteni in the first half of Ireland's win over Samoa but Seuteni was deemed to have dropped his height in the process of the tackle.

Asked his thoughts on the hit, Jackson said there were certainly mitigating factors involved.

“Look, I don’t know if I should really comment on it,” Jackson said.

“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 harm to anybody.

"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 I hope no further sanction comes to him because I hope he can go further in this tournament and play.

“We’ll do everything we possibly can from a Samoan perspective to make sure that he gets on that field next week."

Jakckson said while he understood World Rugby's crackdown on head-high contact, Aki showed no malice in his tackle.

“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 but there’s more concussions that come from tackles around the knee and people getting kneed in the head.

“Was their 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."

Aki will face a judiciary hearing this week given his offence was deemed to warrant a red card.