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Damian McKenzie to don fullback jersey in first Sungoliath appearance

By Tom Vinicombe
Damian McKenzie. (Photo by Scott Powick/Photosport)

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Despite suggesting that he sees his long-term future at flyhalf, Damian McKenzie has been named in his more traditional position of fullback for the Sungoliath’s opening game of the 2022 League One season.

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McKenzie has made the shift to Japan following an understated test season with the All Blacks, where positional rival Jordie Barrett took hold of the No 15 jersey.

While McKenzie thrived for the Chiefs during the 2021 Super Rugby season, he flitted between fullback and first five throughout the team’s campaign and speaking on the What a Lad podcast last month, McKenzie suggested that it was in the latter role where he thinks he can achieve his potential.

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“15, I enjoy the freedom of just doing your own thing, which is fun, but I do really enjoy 10 as well because you’re obviously in a bit more control and a bit more in the driver’s seat than you would be at 15. You get more touches on the ball,” he said.

“I’d say, moving forward, 10’s the position I want to try and focus on … I think it’s a position I’ll be playing over here in Japan, which will be good fun.”

Despite those comments, however, it was a No 15 jersey that McKenzie marched out in when presented to the press for the first time as a Sungoliath player.

Now, with 2021 Top League finalists Sungoliath lining up to face the Brave Lupus on Saturday, it’s in the fullback role from which McKenzie will be expected to add some firepower.

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With McKenzie at No 15, 28-year-old Hikaru Tamura, now in his fifth season with the team, will be entrusted to run the cutter from first five-eighth.

McKenzie is just one of a handful of foreign international stars who will line up for the Sungoliath this weekend, with Australians Sean McMahon and Samu Kerevi also named for the match.

Sungoliath: Damian McKenzie, Seiya Ozaki, Samu Kerevi, Ryoto Nakamura (c), Shogo Nakano, Hikaru Tamura, Yutaka Nagare, Sean McMahon, Naoki Ozawa, Kanji Shimokawa, Harry Hockings, Hendrik Tui, Kan Nakano, Kosuke Horikoshi, Shintaro Ishihara. Reserves: Shunta Nakamura, Yukio Morikawa, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Takayasu Tsuji, Tevita Tatafu, Naoto Saito, Hideto Naguma.

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