Every person is entitled to have his/her view about the laws of the game and their application.
Some views show deep thought and are incredibly worthwhile. Some views should be neither valued nor sought. Michael Cheika’s view on Damien McKenzie’s sendoff falls into the latter category.
Cheika said, “One of the things I’m disappointed about is the fact that McKenzie got sent off…I don’t like it at all. The force is not brought by McKenzie. The force is brought by the ball carrier running. Tait McDermott is not even hurt, he gets straight back up.” That was not all he said about the incident, in fairness. But it’s enough.
The force was bought by both McKenzie and McDermott. They ran into each other. Consequently, Cheika’s first assertion is palpably wrong. Simple physics would tell him that.
Whether McDermott was hurt or not is irrelevant to the commission of the offence. It simply goes to the penalty to be imposed. The purpose of the change to the Law is to avoid the risk of injury. It would be absurd to suggest that the law requiring seatbelts in motor vehicles be removed because, in one instance, a driver without a seatbelt came away unscathed from a 150 km/h collision.
Taking an individual result from a head knock is an illogical way of assessing overall risk and whether laws should be implemented to avoid the risk.
As long ago as 1985 the ‘Football Club and Boxing Medical Officer’ of the University of Queensland, a consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon, wrote an article in the Australian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport regarding concussion in contact sports. In it, he said, “…loss of consciousness is not an essential feature of concussion.” That McDermott walked away is not relevant to being sent off. No doubt it was relevant to the judiciary giving McKenzie three weeks.
The medical officer went on to say “return to training and competition should be deferred until all associated symptoms such as headaches have completely resolved…in some cases, athletes should be advised to cease further participation in the sport”. Medical opinion hasn’t changed since. Yet, Cheika suggests committing the very act which can result in the end of a player’s career does not warrant a sendoff.
It is common knowledge that NFL in the United States was sued by some of its players claiming damages arising from concussions. In more recent times, the RFU has been sued by players who have suffered head injuries in their games. Steve Thompson from England cannot even remember the 2003 English RWC victory.
When Rugby AU is sued, as it may well be, the first thing that will affect liability or an award of damages is what steps were reasonably taken to ensure the safety of the player. The current laws of the game are aimed at that.
There is no excuse for a late shoulder charge to the head. Put simply, that is what McKenzie did. I am sure there was no malice in it. McKenzie has exhibited a jubilant love for the game in all matches I have seen him play. But the fact of the matter is a lack of malice doesn’t prevent concussions. Lack of application of force to the head does that.
It might be difficult to believe that the former Australian coach would be an apologist for such behaviour. However, his previous utterances have been littered with such absurdities. I enjoy hearing him talk of tactics. He is a keen observer of the game. But the more we hear from him about tactics and the less we hear about policies underlying the game, the better his commentary will be.