Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has expressed dismay at Damian McKenzie’s red card in Queensland’s drought-busting Super Rugby win over the Chiefs in Townsville.
Chiefs star McKenzie was sent off by referee Nic Berry after his shoulder collected Reds halfback Tate McDermott in the first half of the wild 40-34 victory on Saturday.
It was the first victory by an Australian side in the trans-Tasman competition following 13 straight losses to Kiwi sides.
While Chiefs captain Brad Weber was incredulous with the send off, the majority of rugby observers on social media agreed that Berry’s decision was a no-brainer considering World Rugby’s continued push for player safety.
Cheika did not.
“One of the things I’m disappointed about is the fact that McKenzie got sent off,” Cheika said on Nine and Stan Sport at halftime, when the Reds were leading 33-3.
“I’ll tell you why, because then there’s an excuse. I think the Reds would have been doing this regardless. They were doing this even when McKenzie was on the field. Then they went down to 13 (with Chase Tiatia also yellow carded), it sort of devalues it a bit.”
McKenzie himself didn’t argue the decision and was distraught on the sidelines.
The loss probably ends the Chiefs’ hopes of qualifying for the trans-Tasman final on June 19 and McKenzie is likely to cop a further three-week suspension ahead of the All Blacks campaign.
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“I don’t like it at all,” Cheika continued.
“The force is not brought by McKenzie, the force is brought by the ball carrier running. Tate McDermott is not even hurt, he gets straight back up.
“If there’s a swinging arm or a raise from the hips down to come up and make the tackle and the shoulder slams in, then yes. Yes, height, perhaps a yellow card maybe if you want to do it but I don’t think the force was created by the tackler, it was created by the ball runner and I don’t like this ‘by the regulations…’
“McKenzie’s a great part of the game, we’ve taken the game to Townsville for the first time, they want to see him and I think even the Reds want him out there to be honest.
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“Because they’re playing well, it would be the same situation, I don’t like it at all. Ref too involved.”
Fellow Nine/Stan panelist Will Genia also argued that red was a step too far from Berry, like himself a former Queensland halfback.
“I understand the law and the rulings and the parameters but I don’t agree with it. I think we can go too far with things,” Genia said.
“To me I see that, I think ‘yes, penalty, yellow card, you get him back in the game.’ Because you look at it from an entertainment perspective as well, the people who are there to watch, are there to watch not only the Reds but Damian McKenzie. I’d like to see him back out there but I do understand the rules.”
Former Wallabies star Drew Mitchell took a different slant, arguing that Berry was left with no other option under the game’s current guidelines.
“The way that the World Rugby rule is, Nic Berry adjudicated that perfectly,” Mitchell said.
“There was no dip at the hips, he was going up, it was direct contact to the head with force – it’s a red card given the parameters around the World Rugby ruling.”
Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan had no issues either.
“You put yourself at risk anytime you go anywhere close to the head so you just need to be better,” McMillan said.
“I don’t want to hang Damian out to dry because he’s pretty bloody brave for a young fella and the amount of times he’s actually won us games off the back of his boot – but also his defence, more than attack…
“He got it a little bit wrong there and we paid the price.”