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‘Didn’t expect it’: Damian McKenzie excited for ‘first crack’ at 10 jersey

By Finn Morton
Photo: Dan Peled / www.photosport.nz

Playmaker Damian McKenzie has won the race to start in the No. 10 jersey against Los Pumas, and it’s an opportunity the 40-Test All Black described as an “exciting challenge.”

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McKenzie was seen training at flyhalf during an on-field session at Marista Rugby Club in the south of Mendoza on Tuesday, while Beauden Barrett was running around at fullback.

The talented duo will start in those roles this weekend, with the All Blacks confirming their first team of 2023 in the early hours of Friday morning in New Zealand.

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McKenzie will link up with legendary halfback Aaron Smith in the halves, while Crusaders pivot Richie Mo’unga will look to provide some impact off the bench late in the contest.

With three world-class options to choose from at first five, McKenzie has been given the first opportunity to start in the famous No. 10 jersey.

Only time will tell as to whether or not Barrett and Mo’unga get their chance during The Rugby Championship – although it seems quite likely, especially for Mo’unga.

Speaking during a press conference at the team hotel on Friday evening, McKenzie admitted that he “didn’t expect” to beat his two teammates to the starting role for this Test.

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“It’s exciting,” McKenzie said. “Obviously stoked and probably didn’t expect it at first. Obviously, we’ve got Rich (Mo’unga) and Baz (Beauden Barrett) who had a great year.

“Had a bit of game time this year with the Chiefs so to get that opportunity is great.

“Looking forward to, it’s exciting being over here in Argentina too and it’s going to be an exciting challenge getting in that 10 jersey.”

McKenzie was nothing short of sensational with the Chiefs in Super Rugby Pacific this season, and so nearly helped guide the Hamilton-based franchise to glory.

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While the fairytale finish to the season wasn’t meant to be for the Chiefs, it was still “a good year” for their star pivot.

“Being given that opportunity, we’ve still got Richie (and) Baz playing good rugby so I wouldn’t say the jersey is mind whatsoever but it is an opportunity,” he added.

“For me it’s just about playing my game. Obviously, we’ve got a game plan but you just want to be yourself, be instinctive, and play the rugby that I tried to play all year.

“That’ll be what I try to do on Saturday, just do my job, and like I said it’s an opportunity so I’ll try to make the most of that.”

McKenzie also spoke quite openly about the lessons he’s learned during his 40-Test career in black, as he reflected on how he’s “probably matured” as a flyhalf.

With the No. 10 on his back, and with the All Blacks looking to the 28-year-old to steer them around the park, McKenzie seemed both humble and confident ahead of Saturday’s Test.

“Probably since my first crack a few years back now, my game has probably matured a little more than what it has been in the past.

“Probably used to run myself into trouble a bit and put the team under a bit of pressure.

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“I’ve learned that kicking is a big part of being a playmaker and having that experience this year with the Chiefs as well has been great.

“(My) Game has probably matured a lot more than what it has been in the past.”

Not too long ago, the All Blacks appeared somewhat unbeatable against Los Pumas.

The men in black survived some scares – that’s for sure – but made winning a habit over a long period. But eventually, all good things must come to an end.

As All Blacks fans will remember, they were shocked when Los Pumas beat New Zealand in Sydney a few years ago.

Then, just last year, the Pumas upset the All Blacks again – but this time on New Zealand soil.

It’s a completely different ball game compared to what it used to be. Los Pumas are the real deal, and the All Blacks are expecting a tough contest.

“They’re a quality team,” Foster said. “They’ve been developing their game and they’ve got a great desire to attack.

“If you don’t really commit in terms of your defensive line then you struggle with them.

“We know that they’re really willing around the breakdown and that’s kind of where the battle often is against Argentina.

“We’re aware of that and respectful of that because we’ve learned the lessons.”

The All Blacks versus Los Pumas clash in Mendoza is set to get underway at 7.10 am NZST on Sunday morning.

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Comments

2 Comments
A
Allan 372 days ago

Barrett a great year?? What part of it? He was so completely outclassed by Mounga in that semifinal it wasn't even close as to who any sensible person would have at first-five!

A
Andrew 372 days ago

"Obviously, we’ve got Rich (Mo’unga) and Baz (Beauden Barrett) who had a great year...."

Barrett? Now I know I live in a parallel universe...or are there two Beauden Barretts?

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