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McKenzie hints at Chiefs return

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Damian McKenzie hints at Super Rugby return

Chiefs playmaker Damian McKenzie is hopeful that he’s halfway through his mandatory stand down period from Super Rugby this season.

The electric 23-year-old sat out his side’s 30-27 defeat to the Highlanders in their season-opener last week with an ankle strain, but is expected to be back this weekend as the Chiefs travel to Canberra to face the Brumbies.

McKenzie, along with other All Blacks in World Cup contention, are expected to sit out two of their franchise’s 16 Super Rugby matches this season as part of a World Cup preservation plan, and he hopes that last week’s injury lay-off contributed to his stand down period.

“I hope so – hopefully that’s one out of two down,” he said to Fairfax.

“Hopefully I can play through a few more games and just have one more off, whenever that may be.”

The 23-test utility back said the team’s medical staff played a large role in determining how inured All Blacks will be managed throughout the World Cup year.
“I guess it’s totally up to how I’m feeling and the medical staff,” he said.
“Obviously it’s a big year and I’m solely focused on what’s happening here with this franchise. I’m going to be doing everything I can to be playing each week. If I have to sit out due to an issue, I’ll have to do that, but otherwise hopefully I can just keep rolling through.

“You’d rather be out there on the field playing – watching’s pretty tough.”

Watching from the sidelines during his side’s first up defeat was a difficult watch for McKenzie, who said his teammates took “a lot of learnings” from the encounter.

“Opportunities we could have made the most of a bit more often, and some good stuff as well. It wasn’t that fun watching from the stands, I will say.”

He will be able to provide a lot more experience should he start at first-five this weekend, taking over from the vastly inexperienced and out-of-position Orbyn Leger.

McKenzie said he had learned a lot from his debut campaign in the number 10 jersey, with tactical awareness and game management at the forefront of his mind throughout 2018.

“Last year was a massive learning curve as a 10,” he said.

“You’re the driver of the team, your game management’s got to be spot-on. I felt like I learnt a lot during the Super Season and then obviously being alongside two of the best 10s in the country, Beaudy [Beauden Barrett] and Richie [Mo’unga], I learnt a lot of them as well,” he said of time with the All Blacks, where fullback was his main role.

“For any Super team, the greater goal is to win a championship.

“We’ve got some really exciting young players coming through – I was pretty impressed by the new boys last week and how they stepped up.”

Sean Fitzpatrick on World Cup threats:

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Damian McKenzie hints at Super Rugby return