Joe Schmidt has admitted he would be “pretty disappointed” if Bundee Aki’s red card against Samoa rules him out of the rest of the World Cup.
Ireland thumped Samoa 47-5 in Fukuoka to book their place in the quarter-finals, but Aki was sent off for a high tackle on UJ Seuteni and could now receive a suspension to end his tournament.
New Zealand-born to Samoan parents, Aki was “devastated” by his red card, according to Ireland head coach Schmidt.
Samoa boss Steve Jackson pledged to make whatever representations necessary to help Aki avoid a ban, insisting the red card should prove punishment enough.
Connacht star Aki returned to the pitch at the final whistle, mingling with his close friends in the Samoa line-up – but Ireland boss Schmidt knows that could prove his final appearance of the competition.
“I spoke to Steve Jackson; he’s obviously suffered from a couple of red cards or citings from his players in this tournament,” said Schmidt.
“It’s a really tough situation. Bundee is upright; you can see both his hands behind the shoulder blades of the player who is just starting to come up.
“And it’s all split-second stuff. So we live in hope, and 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. We know it’s a very hard line.
“I certainly feel for Bundee; he’s pretty devastated that any further participation in the tournament is now at risk.”
Asked for his take on Jackson’s pledge to help Aki avoid suspension, Schmidt continued: “I think Steve was a good player himself, he’s coached Super Rugby and for some time, he knows the game well.
“And we’d both be pretty disappointed if Bundee does get ruled out of the rest of the tournament on the back of that tackle. And I do genuinely say tackle, because that’s what it was.
“But there is a very hard line being taken and we’ll just have to accept whatever decision is made by the judiciary.”
Johnny Sexton’s two tries spearheaded Ireland’s charge to the last eight, with captain Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Jordan Larmour, CJ Stander and Andrew Conway also crossing.
Ireland had to battle for almost 50 minutes a man light though, and Aki would be very fortunate not to see his tournament ended by suspension.
Schmidt’s men will face either New Zealand or South Africa in the last eight, next weekend in Tokyo. Ireland must wait for the conclusion of Scotland versus Japan on Sunday to discover their opponents.
Samoa boss Jackson made an impassioned defence of Aki’s future participation in the World Cup, and will now likely make representations at any World Rugby disciplinary hearing.
“Look, I don’t know if I should really comment on it, but there were mitigating factors again,” said Jackson, of Aki’s red card.
“As you all know it’s the toss of a coin at the moment. I think Nic Berry refereed the game very well tonight.
“Bundee is a great character, he doesn’t go out there to do that tonight.
“Hopefully the powers that be see some sense and he gets to continue on in the tournament.
“He’s a great kid and he deserves it as much as anyone.
“But any contact with the head, people are being penalised. I hope no further sanction comes to him and I hope he can go further in the tournament.
“We’ll do everything we can to make sure he gets on the field next week.
“UJ came onto the ball at pace and he only had two or three metres to make the decision on what type of tackle to make.
“That’s what’s being asked of defenders now. We all know that’s extremely difficult, and so we wish him all the best.”