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Why Michael Cheika, Will Genia and Drew Mitchell are wrong about Damian McKenzie's red card

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

No player, no matter how high their entertainment value, is above the laws of the game.

In case you hadn’t heard, Damian McKenzie got the permanent marching orders for the first time in his career during the Chiefs’ narrow loss to the Reds on Saturday night.


Quite often in rugby there can be many mitigating factors in high tackles. This case doesn’t present such factors, in fact, you would think that it was all pretty clear cut.

As a result, McKenzie will face SANZAAR judiciary for the first time ever and likely receive a three week ban from action. That would rule him out of the Chiefs’ plans for the remainder of the season, but because this is the first incident for McKenzie, he has avoided a potential six-week forced rest.

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The incident came in the 22nd minute, when McKenzie put in a clumsy, some might say lazy, shoulder which landed directly to the head of charging Reds’ halfback Tate McDermott. By the laws of the game, this was clearly a red card offence, the lack of any mitigating factor is clear for all to see.

But in the eyes of some, this evidence wasn’t good enough.

Former Wallabies coach Michael Chieka, halfback Will Genia, and utility back Drew Mitchell all lamented the call, suggesting that the entertainment value McKenzie brought to the Townville fixture should’ve played a part in the TMO process.

Translated this means that Damian McKenzie shouldn’t have been awarded the red card simply because he’s Damian McKenzie. That sort of thing might be passible in the NRL where star players so often get away with poor conduct, but it has no place in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

The star-studded Stan Sport panel also argued that the speed of McDermott into the tackle was the second significant factor. Rugby halfbacks be on notice, you can no longer run hard off the back of a scrum.


Chiefs’ coach Clayton McMillan seemed to be able to apply the appropriate amount of logic to the incident when speaking to media after the match.

“You just put yourself at risk any time you go anywhere close to the head,” McMillan said. “You just need to be better but I don’t want to hang Damian out to dry because he’s pretty bloody brave for a young fella. He got it a little bit wrong there and we paid the price.”

Pay the price McKenzie will in the following days, and rightly so.

Rugby players know the rules full-well at this point, it doesn’t matter who you are or how much clout you have.


Brad Weber’s gasp in the moment might make for some good theatre, McKenzie can smile and shake all the hands he likes after the match, but it doesn’t negate what SANZAAR will be looking at when reviewing this case.

Rugby has a commitment to protecting the head and neck area of its players. Any argument that certain players with high entertainment value should be exempt from the same duty is poor in form and needs to be signalled out.


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