‘I might as well join the NRL’
One tackle brought him into the contest. Another tackle brought him contempt.
Wales back-up fly-half Rhys Patchell had an influential day at the Rugby World Cup, kicking his side's last eight points - and 14 in all - to hold off Australia 29-25 in a classic pool showdown on Sunday in a raucous Tokyo Stadium.
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Patchell thought he might see action only in the second half, until 28 minutes in when starting flyhalf Dan Biggar launched himself at much bigger winger Marika Koroibete and saved a try but suffered a match-ending head knock.
"Only when you're around him on a daily basis do you appreciate what an unbelievable competitor (Dan) is, and how much he wants to win," Patchell said. "That was an unbelievable act of real bravery. We subs were up and thinking we're going to concede a try, and he pulls off a miracle tackle."
Patchell, at his first World Cup, strolled into the game as cool as ice and, almost immediately, slotted a penalty from wide out.
Then he made himself really known. Australian centre Samu Kerevi had the ball against his chest, covered by both arms, when he charged at Patchell, who tackled him upright. Patchell rocked back and Kerevi's forearm slid from the chest up into Patchell's neck.
Referee Romain Poite came back to the tackle and he and Television Match Official Ben Skeen discussed at length whether it was high and dangerous.
Three players in the past week have been suspended for dangerous high tackles. Welsh fans were whistling for a yellow card for Kerevi. Wallabies fans were whistling for time to stop being wasted over a charge seen over and over again. Poite penalised Kerevi and gave Australia notice it was a third and last warning for high contact.
Kerevi made a point of apologising to Patchell on the field but was not happy. "The way that rugby is going, I might as well join the NRL, seeing as how they (the Rugby World Cup referees) police it," Kerevi said.
"Look, it's a hard decision for the referees. I obviously understand that. I guess I got to change the technique, the way I run.
"It's hard when you slow it down to one-tenth of a second. It looks like I'm going for his neck, but there's no malice in it. What do we do in that split second? With the force I'm coming at, and if he's going backwards and I can't move forward, I might as well just stop. I guess I got to use my feet and not come straight anymore."
Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said he tried to make Poite see sense. "He (Patchell) used poor tackle technique and has fallen back," Hooper said.
"I don't know what Kerevi could have done. I spoke to the referee for the future to make sure that it doesn't happen again."
Australia coach Michael Cheika was even more annoyed, saying Patchell's tackle resembled Australia wing Reece Hodge's tackle against Fiji last weekend that earned him a three-match ban.
"When our guy (Hodge) makes that tackle and has the high tackle framework in his head, he gets suspended. This guy (Patchell) doesn't think about the high tackle framework and we get penalised," Cheika said. "As a rugby player, a former player, I am embarrassed here."
Cheika believed World Rugby's uncommon public admonition of referees for failing to police high tackles last weekend has made them extra cautious.
"They all seem spooked," Cheika said. "Everybody seems worried, they are all worried about stuff so much. I am not sure why they are worried, the players aren't worried. Then it's affecting everything else on the field."
Patchell saw his tackle on Kerevi as "just a collision." "I'm here to play rugby, not to say anything controversial," Patchell said. "The officials make a decision that they see fit, and it didn't bother me either way."
But Patchell has recent history of poor defence. A year ago he suffered two concussions in quick succession from making tackles. When he was cleared to play he was tackle-shy and Wales coach Warren Gatland said they had to work on Patchell to fix his technique.
"Rhys did a fantastic job coming on for us," Gatland said. "He's been criticised a lot about his defence in the past and we have changed a lot about the way he defends. I thought his line speed was excellent and he made some big tackles, and controlled the game pretty well.
"There's some things we want him to continue to work on in terms of bossing the game a bit more. But this was a big match to come on early and get a win, and he'll take a lot of confidence from that."