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Heir to the throne: Damian McKenzie on chasing the black 10 jersey

By Ned Lester
Damian McKenzie and Beauden Barrett line up in the All Blacks attack. Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

Damian McKenzie knows the opportunity before him after the departure of the All Blacks‘ top playmaker, Richie Mo’unga.

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The Chiefs star said there are no illusions over the race that has commenced for the iconic and newly vacated black No.10 jersey, and he has every intention of being first in line for the honours on offer when the international season rolls around.

After a terrific year at 10 in Super Rugby Pacific, All Blacks fans didn’t have to wait long to see McKenzie in action in black, as former coach Ian Foster named him to start at first five-eighth in the opening Test of 2023 against Los Pumas.

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From there the mercurial runner played both the first five and fullback roles throughout 2023, including the Rugby World Cup, forcing the issue and making it onto the bench for the All Blacks’ knockout games, despite a wealth of playmakers already in the matchday side.

The 28-year-old’s ascension is expected to continue in 2024, with Scott Robertson at the healm of the national setup, the coach’s record of player empowerment could see the best of McKenzie grace the international stage; provided he wins the race to 10.

“You’ve got to embrace it,” McKenzie said of the challenge of selection, when queried by media at the All Blacks’ first camp of the year on Tuesday. “There’s obviously opportunity there this year. For me, I’ve always been a person that takes it week by week but you’ve got to take care of your performance, you’ve got to prepare well.

“It’s clear and obvious there’s an opportunity there in the first five position and that’s the position I want to be playing and that’s where I want to be, being able to lead this team.

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“I know there’s a lot of work to be done throughout the year before that first team gets named, so I’m really excited for that opportunity, can’t wait to rip in with the Chiefs and then hopefully this team later in the year.”

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With Mo’unga signed in Japan for the next three years, ruling him ineligible for All Blacks selection, the runway looks to have clear for McKenzie. But, there are no promises it will remain that way.

Robertson, in the same press conference, revealed what he had told relevant stakeholders regarding any desired changes in eligibility.

“Look, what I presented to the board, the CEOs of Super Rugby, the PUs at Heartland, I explained about keeping an open mind in that space,” said Robertson. “That’s what I’ve asked for… keep an open mind where the game is at the moment, it’s moving quite quickly, as we know.

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“There is a lot of on and off field, players and decisions and contracting, and I want to be a step ahead of that. Decipher that.”

Having spent time with the new coaching group and staff as well as reconnecting and reminiscing with the 2023 All Blacks squad over the past 24 hours, McKenzie expressed optimism for what the future holds under Razor’s tutelage.

“Just his ability to bring everyone together and make those connections literally within a couple of days… he’s just himself, he doesn’t change who he is, he’s very energetic, he’s fresh. He brings a lot of energy, it’s great.”

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5 Comments
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Easy_Duzz-it 164 days ago

Mounga for 10 watch the space

P
Pecos 165 days ago

I can see DMac growing his game exponentially under Razor. It’s all up to him to take this opportunity to make #10 his. Of course BB will be in the mix too given that Jordan will be #15. Exciting times.

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