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Damian McKenzie's freewheeling style is better suited for Super Rugby

By Hamish Bidwell
Damian McKenzie of New Zealand charges forward during The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australia Wallabies at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 05, 2023 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

I enjoy watching Damian McKenzie play for the Chiefs.


But, as I’ve said plenty of times before, I don’t see a place for him in Test match rugby.

Good on the All Blacks for beating Australia 23-20, in Dunedin on Saturday. I mean it was better than losing to them, after all.

I heard a bit of talk afterwards from the team about the defence getting them back into the game. Maybe. But that ignores the fact that the real change in that game came at first five-eighth.

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Once Richie Mo’unga replaced McKenzie, the All Blacks went back to what’s worked so well for them in 2023.

They were direct, they were abrasive, they stopped throwing and kicking the ball away frivolously.

Honestly, the first half of that match was a shambles, typified by the mad-cap approach that often works well for McKenzie at Super Rugby level.

Once Mo’unga became the game-driver, the eventual outcome of the match was assured.

Points Flow Chart

New Zealand win +3
Time in lead
Mins in lead
% Of Game In Lead
Possession Last 10 min
Points Last 10 min

So, there’s a few things there.

First, I just think it’s daft to give McKenzie the keys to the car and expect effective rugby.

Second, was McKenzie freelancing on Saturday or playing to the gameplan given to him?

And, third, why did it take a change at 10 to make the necessary adjustments?

Is no-one able to take a first five aside and say ‘this isn’t working’? Or would it simply fall on deaf ears where a man of McKenzie’s mercurial talents are concerned?

If it’s the latter, then I go back to what I said about him being unsuitable for Test rugby.

I can’t forget the recent Super Rugby Pacific final, for instance, where the frenetic Chiefs were eventually ground down by the relentless Crusaders. I know which method I think works.

I try not to be lured in by clickbait, so I don’t know the justification for the recent writing off of Sam Whitelock. But I do remember headlines suggesting the veteran lock was past it and would battle to make New Zealand’s best XV from here on.


In Whitelock, Scott Barrett and the now-dinged up Brodie Retallick, the All Blacks possess three world-class locks. I still think Barrett has a bit to offer on the blindside, but that’s not my call.

What I do know is that the All Blacks wouldn’t have beaten the Wallabies on Saturday if Whitelock wasn’t on the field.

That’s partly what left me so baffled by the footy McKenzie was allowed to play for so long in Dunedin. For the life of me, I can’t believe Whitelock wouldn’t have dragged his battered old body out of another ruck and said ‘we need to start playing smarter’. Or words to that effect.

The bottom line is the risk of starting McKenzie in proper Test matches outweighs the reward.

I’m not sure how much more evidence we need of that.


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rod 339 days ago

DMac will come off the bench after 60 minutes and create havoc if the forwards gain parity or dominance, he has the best pass of all current fives in NZ that’s why he got selected

edward 340 days ago

Bidwell's analysis ignores a lot of the wider context of the game and that's a key feature of clickbait, so I wonder if he realizes that's what his writing often resembles?

Yes, Mackenzie didn't have a great game - he missed 3 tackles and got turned over 3 times BUT there were plenty of extenuating factors:

  1. he hadn't played for a full month - not even a sub role in that time
  2. He was playing behind a forward pack that got taken apart in the first half. Everyone is talking about Savea but he didn't up his game until the 2nd half. In fact, there was a marked improvement from the forwards in the 2nd half that just happened to coincide with Mounga coming on.
  3. Mackenzie also did some very good things - he set up Stevenson's try with a pinpoint pass, he created breaks for other players, had 4 defenders beaten and kicked all his goals
Finally, this idea that he can't play at test level ignores his most recent test against Argentina where he was excellent and other tests against nations like France where he was man of the match

JD Kiwi 340 days ago

Mo'unga is the better test ten but if you want the best from DMac you select a 9 who can pass, a big straight running 12 and a playmaker fullback. All of which he had when playing well against Argentina.

Nickers 340 days ago

This is such a simplistic take on what happened during the game - but maybe that's the point? To generate comments? Cynical if so. Maybe this is why it is an "opinion" piece rather than "analysis"? It reads like someone told the author what happened in the game and he applied his bias to it without watching it and wrote an article.

The attacking structure was completely different than in the previous games this year, particularly with no midfielders up flat running off 10. Clearly something different was being attempted - perhaps simply not showing too much more of the "A game", or maybe something new which failed, but regardless is was obvious not a replication of the structures or plays seen in the previous games.

Importantly the 9 and front rows were also changes at the same time. Mounga had better service and a better platform.

I'm not making a case for McKenzie over Mo'unga, but it is either disingenuous or genuinely horrific take to say that McKenzie's game doesn't work at international level based on this one game. He was outstanding vs. Argentina for a start, and additionally Mo'unga has had a number of very poor games for the ABs - by this reasoning his style of play doesn't suit international rugby either.

rod 340 days ago

DMac will be a on the bench after 50 minutes to play his high tempo game and find gaps that only he can.

Greg 340 days ago

It's a bit more subtle than that. DMac needs players running off him. That happened in Mendoza but not in Dunedin. And it happened all season with the Chiefs. S Barrett is no flanker. Tupou Vai is a better prospect there. Vai is the perfect impact player, with only one specialist no. 6 selected.

CO 340 days ago

Huge mistake by the Allblacks selectors with just five loose forwards named and a massive amount of wings. Reality is not one of the first choice loose forwards would have made the first choice loose forward trio for the Allblacks in 2015. So, we needed to have six to keep everyone fresh. Ultimately playing Savea out of position at 8 to accommodate Cane is a huge weakness as the Allblacks struggle to make the ball contestable when getting pumped like on Saturday night as Cane is a poor jackal. Jacobson needs to come into 8 and Savea into 7. McKenzie is a fullback that can play first five so Foster basically named seven outside backs and five loose forwards. We could've easily left McKenzie, Caleb and Emoni at home and taken an extra lock and loose forward. Ennors a better outside centre than Havili is a second five so must be a significant knee injury but as per the typical Allblacks code of silence nobodies bothered to inform the public. I'm hopeful the Allblacks don't get taught that the forward platform is what wins world cups not outside backs but this poor squad selection leaves the Allblacks vulnerable even though it's still good enough to win RWC.

Rob 341 days ago

And we can have Barret, white lock and Retallick in the same team too. That is pretty cool!

Rob 341 days ago

We're lucky we can have both in the same team then! I don't know why people focus on only 15 players. Winning the WC is about all 33. Horses for courses.
Would I start him against France or Ireland hell no. 10 min to go when everyone is battered to pieces, maybe. Or against the easier games to give Richie a break, hell yes

Shayne 341 days ago

So right we've all seen it,how come So many can't see it .sky needs more Marshall's and less kerwins and Johnsons

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