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