'I don't get quite as hot-headed as I used to': A wiser Damian McKenzie returns to the All Blacks after his clutch form for the Chiefs
The Chiefs’ resurgent season in 2021, which saw them make the Super Rugby Aotearoa final, has seen a number of their players selected for the All Blacks, including a new face in young midfielder Quinn Tupaea.
Damian McKenzie, who played an integral role for the Chiefs at first-five throughout the year, was happy to see his teammates rewarded for their form during the Super Rugby season.
For uncapped 22-year-old Tupaea, McKenzie sees him fitting in well after impressing with his attitude and commitment at the Chiefs, highlighting his work ethic as a key reason why he’s in the squad.
“Stoked for Quinn and all the other new boys tonight,” McKenzie told media at the All Blacks announcement.
“It goes to show how hard he’s been working around training. I’ve had a lot to do with Quinn and he’s a great young talent.
“I think he’s down with the Maori All Blacks at the moment, they had them all in a room watching [the announcement]. I’m sure he will fit in really well around the midfield there.”
Luke Jacobson was another Chiefs player to earn selection as returns to the All Black fold after being a late scratching from the World Cup two years ago due to concussion.
Jacobson was in standout form with the Chiefs this year and was one of the best loose forwards in both the Aotearoa and Trans-Tasman competitions.
McKenzie said he “thoroughly deserves” being back in the All Blacks after training the “house down” to get back.
“For Luke, unfortunately he got pulled out of the squad late with his head issues, I think he had a bit of time to rest and get that right,” McKenzie said.
“He’s come back in great form as you’ve seen throughout the year. He’s a guy who works the house down. First at training, last to leave. He’s only young and he’s a leader of our team. He’s had a great season.
“Awesome for him to be back in the squad, thoroughly deserves it. It’s very cool to see him back in the black jersey.”
For McKenzie himself, it has been over three years since he last played against the Springboks. Having ruptured his ACL part way through the 2019 Super Rugby season, the 26-year-old was absent from the Rugby Championship and World Cup that year.
McKenzie returned to the All Blacks in 2020, but with the South Africans pulling out of the competition last year, he was unable to play them. McKenzie is excited to see them back in the mix ahead of the 100th test between the two rugby nations.
“It’s sad we didn’t get to play them last year. They are a very unique team, very physical, an exciting team to play against,” he said.
“Obviously won’t get the opportunity to play them over there in South Africa, anytime you get a chance to play all the teams, to have them back will be great.”
The Chiefs were one of two Kiwi sides to lose to the Australian franchises, and although the Trans-Tasman results were rather lopsided, McKenzie isn’t expecting the Wallabies to be so easy.
“It was nice to be able to play the Aussies again,” he said.
“A bit of change of pace against them, but I think knowing what the Wallabies can do and under Dave Rennie, I think we can expect a great side.
“They are already into their work, so I don’t think you want to look at too many results from out of the Trans-Tasman tournament.
“I know they will put together a great side. There is some young talent that has played some great rugby through the Super Rugby season.
For McKenzie personally, he highlighted 2021 was a season that enabled him to mature as a player back at first-five for the Chiefs.
As cover for 10 and 15, he said he will be pushing for selection in both positions, putting his best foot forward in order to make the team.
“I enjoyed the change up actually, being able to play 10. Probably matured a bit as a player, I don’t get quite as hot-headed as I used to. That was something I needed to work on,” he explained.
“Obviously we’ve got some great 10s in Richie [Mo’unga] and Beaudy [Barrett] there and I’ll be doing my best to push them where I can.
“At fullback we’ve got some great players there as well, in Jordie [Barrett] and Will Jordan as well, it’s good competition.
“Hopefully will play a bit of 15 and if I’m needed at 10 late in the game, I’ll be excited to do that too.”
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