Chiefs star Damian McKenzie may have slotted the winning penalty goal after the full-time siren in Friday’s 26-24 win over the Hurricanes in Hamilton, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the livewire fullback.
For the fourth match in a row, McKenzie secured the winning points for the Chiefs in the dying stages of the match by landing a 45-metre penalty four minutes into injury time to keep his side’s Super Rugby Aotearoa final hopes alive.
It comes after the 27-test All Black, who turned 26 on Tuesday, scored and converted a try in the 80th minute to beat the Blues 15-12 on March 27, scored a 45m penalty in extra-time to beat the Highlanders 26-23 on April 10 and scored a 30m penalty in the 78th minute to beat the Crusaders 26-25 last Saturday.
This week’s continuation of McKenzie’s match-winning exploits led teammate Anton Lienert-Brown to joke that “he is a couple games off getting keys to the city”, although not all of his peers appeared overly ecstatic with McKenzie’s on-field efforts.
Speaking on Sky Sport‘s post-match coverage, former Chiefs playmaker Stephen Donald said he noticed that McKenzie had often “pushed” Chiefs pivot Bryn Gatland “out of the way” to jump in at first receiver when his side was on attack.
Like many teams, the Chiefs have adopted a dual playmaker system whereby the likes of McKenzie and Gatland can share the playmaking responsibility from fullback and first-five, respectively.
However, McKenzie revealed he had to apologise to Gatland during the match for assuming the playmaking role too often and thus invading on the latter’s responsibilities.
“I was apologising a fair bit to Brynner [Gatland] out there,” McKenzie told Donald and former All Blacks Sevens star Karl Te Nana. “Not sure if it was my lungs… but poor old Brynner, I got in his way a few times.”
Nevertheless, McKenzie was pleased with the way in which the Chiefs had adopted the dual playmaker scheme that has seen him deployed at No 10 and No 15 this season.
He said he is enjoying his time at the franchise this year and that he has formed good partnerships with the likes of Gatland and Kaleb Trask, of which will need to remain strong heading into the competition’s final on May 8.
“It’s nice being able to chop and change, but I got caught there a couple of times in the wrong spots,” McKenzie said. “I’m just enjoying the dual role and coming late into No 10 is nice as well. Plenty to work on, but it’s exciting and I enjoy it.”
He added: “We’re creating a good relationship from our No 10 and No 15, and with Trasky [Kaleb Trask] as well. We’ve just got to keep building that through our last couple of games.”
The win over the Hurricanes keeps the Chiefs in second place on the Super Rugby Aotearoa standings, three points shy of the league-leading Crusaders and five points ahead of the third-placed Blues.
Clayton McMillan’s side remain a good chance of making the final in a fortnight, and a Crusaders win over the Blues in Christchurch on Sunday would go some way to solidifying the Chiefs’ top-two finish.
However, regardless of the result at Orangetheory Stadium, the Chiefs will still need to get a result of some kind against the Blues in their final regular season fixture in Auckland next Saturday.
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