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How the Crusaders plan to stop ‘talented’ playmaker Damian McKenzie

By Finn Morton
Damian McKenzie. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Chiefs shocked the rugby world with an emphatic 21 point demolition of the Crusaders in round one, and no player stood out more than playmaker Damian McKenzie.

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Having returned to New Zealand following a sabbatical in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath, the flyhalf stole the show with an 11 point haul at Christchurch’s Orangetheory Stadium.

McKenzie also ran the ball 13 times and finished with 100 per cent tackle accuracy as he outperformed All Blacks and Crusaders pivot Richie Mo’unga.

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Throughout the Chiefs’ flawless start to Super Rugby Pacific, which has seen them win eight from eight, McKenzie has continued to impress.

Currently on the RugbyPass MVP leader board for the season – which is updated on the live blog each week – McKenzie sits in equal-first with 12 points to his name.

The 40-Test All Black is undoubtedly a player to watch when the Crusaders take on the high flying Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.

Crusaders assistant coach Scott Hansen highlighted McKenzie as the Chiefs’ dangerman ahead of the highly anticipated New Zealand derby at FMG Stadium.

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“We’ve acknowledged the great talent that D-Mac’s got, he really has returned from his time at Suntory back into the game here (in great form),” Hansen told SENZ Mornings.

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“He’s shown a lot of growth around his role as a 10, so we know that he’s a threat not only with ball in hand but he’s very brave with his kicking game.

“We felt in the first game (that) he found a lot of backfield around us on his kicking game, so how we can limit that will be important.

“Then obviously how we come and shut down time and space on D-Mac.

“He’s a very, very talented player (so) just as much as that, (it is also) how we influence people around him.”

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McKenzie earned player of the match honours following a sensational performance against the Hurricanes at Sky Stadium earlier this month.

Playing in the No. 10 jersey, McKenzie scored 18 points – including a try late in the contest – to complete the convincing win in the capital.

Led by the likes of Shaun Stevenson and Brad Weber as well, the Chiefs have beaten every New Zealand team this season, and are looking to complete an incredible regular season double over the title holders this week.

“The most important thing around limiting talent is (to) take away that time and space,” Hansen added.

“But just as important (is) how he gets the ball and what kind of quality he gets.

“We understand he’s world-class and the challenge to us is to cut down that time and space.”

The Chiefs have passed every test so far this season, but it doesn’t get much tougher than the Crusaders.

Defending Super Rugby Pacific champions the Crusaders have won six titles in as many years for a reason – they know how to win big games.

This New Zealand derby at FMG Stadium is set to get underway at 7.05pm NZST on Saturday.

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