The exploits of Damian McKenzie have been on full show in recent weeks during what’s best described as a remarkable turnaround for the Chiefs.
So often the talking point amongst rugby scribes, the 25-year old known as ‘Big Jim’ amongst his teammates, is never one to give much away to those behind the cameras and wasn’t sharing any words publicly during that torrid run of results.
A man that lets his actions do the talking on the field, McKenzie has delivered the telling blow in two of the Chiefs’ three consecutive victories this Super Rugby Aotearoa season and seemingly is somewhere back to near his best.
Against the Blues, McKenzie outstepped and then bounced his way through the scrambling defence to win it at the death in Hamilton, producing the Chiefs’ first victory at home in over 12 months.
And it was a kick from close to 50 metres out in the first-ever golden point period with which McKenzie sealed the deal against the Highlanders in Dunedin, slotting it through the posts after missing from almost the exact same position not many minutes earlier.
In years gone by, TMOs have been able to offer their guidance in real-time. Those rules have changed, however, and the impacts of that change were clear in Saturday night's #SuperRugbyAotearoa clash. #HIGvCHI
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) April 10, 2021
The great players do many things, but the confidence to back themselves and trust the process often pays the biggest of dividends in the key moments. In the two examples that have delivered the Chiefs their late scalps, McKenzie has taken it upon himself to get the job done, backing his processes and his gut.
Being the man to ensure his team comes out on the right side of the final ledger isn’t anything new but mastering that art has been a long-time coming for the now-superstar.
Waikato fans will remember a similar moment in McKenzie’s rookie season back in 2014, when in the exact same spot on the field in Hamilton, the pocket rocket attempted to do it all himself and have a go at the line with two Mooloos teammates on his outside.
That day in Hamilton it didn’t pay off. McKenzie was held up over the line and the game was lost to Manawatu.
Two days later, the man himself rued the missed opportunity and his own self-described selfishness.
Remember that time England's Jonny Wilkinson and Argentina's Martin Rodriguez landed four kicks from 14 attempts? Things weren't quite as bad as that on Saturday night, but they weren't great either. #SuperRugbyAotearoa #HIGvCHIhttps://t.co/SvNX8ZZlBs
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 11, 2021
“It was selfish and an absolute balls-up,” McKenzie said on the training paddock at Beetham Park. “The boys are playing some good code and we could have gotten over the line if not for that stupid move.”
It would’ve been easy for the then-19-year old to go into his shell and be more of a distributor moving forward, especially when coming into the high-stakes Super Rugby environment in 2015.
Perhaps it was fate, but McKenzie then had to make his Chiefs debut in the role of first five, effectively forcing the rookie to be backline general before getting the opportunity for that little bit more freedom at fullback.
His time wearing the No 10 jersey has been critical to the development of his game while his awareness and knowledge of how different sides shape up has been one of the big benefits of his continued time at fullback.
That’s paying off when McKenzie slots into the role of first receiver. He has an always developing awareness to his game and the skill to step himself into a position that forces gaps for outside runners to go through.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that this is where the pocket rocket needs to be when the game is on the line for the Chiefs. And if all else fails, his accuracy off the tee is usually at the top echelon of the competition.
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