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Blues wary of falling into the Damian McKenzie trap in Super Rugby final

By Ned Lester
Damian McKenzie and the Chiefs celebrate scoring the try. Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images

With the Chiefs on another title charge in 2024, one name their final opponent the Blues will be hearing a lot of this week is that of Damian McKenzie; the instigator of a lethal Chiefs attack and a man known to rise to the occasion of big games.

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The All Blacks pivot has, by his own admission, had some quiet stretches throughout the 2024 season but recently left those performances in the rearview, hitting the playoffs with renewed energy and inspiring a surge towards the final.

In response to a mildly disappointing nine-win regular season campaign, the influential first five-eighth said his team didn’t have to be the best team throughout the season, they just had to be the best team on the night, and that’s exactly what they’ve been every week since.

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The Blues have also been the best team on the park in each of their last 13 games, including a 31-17 win over the Chiefs in round 15, just three weeks ago.

But that result doesn’t mean the Blues have the answer to McKeznie, far from it.

“I don’t think anyone has a plan on how to tackle him,” standout Blues back AJ Lam told RugbyPass at Blues training on Tuesday.

“But just trying to shut down his space and time on the ball will play a huge role in how we go in the game.

“Not just me but all the boys have just got to try and slow him down as much as we can because we know how much of a weapon he is.

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“Just knowing what he’s capable of, if we let him run around and let him play his game we’re just going to fall into his trap.

“So, trying to take away his space and time is going to be big for us.”

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The Blues boast their own No. 10 in career-best form, with Harry Plummer’s emergence keeping All Black Stephen Perofeta at fullback since returning from injury in time for the playoffs.

Lam, who has recently found a home in the No. 12 jersey just outside Plummer, says the 25-year-old has provided exactly the direction the team has needed since assuming the reins at 10.

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“He knows his stuff, from the top of the field to the bottom it’s a lot easier for us,” Lam explained. “If you ask any of the other players, everyone knows what they’re doing when they’re running off the back of him.

“He’s really clear on what he wants to do, where he wants to strike. Just his clarity and his leadership throughout this year has really helped us get to where we are at the moment.”

The idea of bringing the first Super Rugby title to Auckland since 2003 – excluding the abbreviated 2021 Trans-Tasman format – brings about plenty of emotions for the team, but Lam says they’ve got the recipe for a composed performance.

“We’re just sticking to our jobs. The coaches have given us a clear picture of what we want to do so it’s about slowly building towards it, not overdoing it too early in the week.

“But, also, it is an exciting moment, it’s just about being calm.”

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6 Comments
I
Isikeli 24 days ago

The Chiefs will pull this win like a dream as the Blues always crumble at the biggest game, why is that ? Not enough care, their crowd don't care and so they don't have the fight to come back and win. Watch them dominate the first 20 but so as the counter punch by the Chiefs. If the Chiefs lead or stay in the game with 7 points or less by half time, sorry Blues it will be another year of disappointment.

D
David 25 days ago

The Chiefs can plan for this game because the Blues, under Cotter, are very predictable. Conversely the Blues will have little idea what the Chiefs have planned. That, and the anticipation of a Jacobson or Finau special should keep the Blues from staying calm.

Sadly the officials might have the biggest say.

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Tom 1 hours ago
All Blacks snatch another tight victory from England at Eden Park

First up to any of the ABs fans who accused us of “bluster” pre-series for saying it would be a competitive - I'm glad it turned out to be an excellent series to which the ABs were deserving winners and I hope next time a side tours you'll be a little more humble. I loved the heart shown by the English boys and how they managed to contain the AB attack for large parts of the series. Was very disappointed by the lack of cohesion and ambition ball in hand, we looked after the ball poorly and hardly went 2 phases without kicking it away. We're not giving ourselves enough opportunity to put phases together and build pressure. The ambition shown in the 6N against Ireland and France seems to have gone and our players look very hesitant with ball in hand, we look much better when Marcus is taking the ball flat and boys are running hard at the line. So frustrating when we're starting to build pressure in the 22 we go back to the grubber kick then find ourselves back on the half way line 10 seconds later. We've shown great success with our box kicking game but we need to leave the flipping grubber kick in the locker room. Like the Marcus Smith hail Mary miss pass that went straight to Mark Telea, we seem to have no patience. Sometimes we just need to recycle the ball and go again. Loving seeing Maro back to his best and Fin Baxter really impressed, Alex Mitchell looks to be one of the most complete 9s in world rugby, great around the base and impeccable kicking. Congrats to the ABs, far more dangerous and skillful than England. We contained you for large swathes but to shut down that amount of pace and skill for 80 mins is nigh on impossible. Managed to find a way to win and instinctively grabbed the rare opportunities which came your way. Finding ways to win in two tight test matches will I'm sure be a great experience for your younger players. Beauden needs to be in the starting 15, what a worldie.

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