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'I'm proud': Damian McKenzie reflects on 'special' Chiefs milestone

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Damian McKenzie etched his name into Super Rugby history on Friday night as the playmaker became the latest player to reach a “special” milestone for the Chiefs.

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The 40-Test All Black led the Chiefs out to Sydney’s Allianz Stadium ahead of his 100th appearance for the decorated New Zealand franchise.

McKenzie joined an exclusive club by reaching the milestone – becoming just the ninth player in Chiefs history to play 100 games.

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Alongside fellow-centurions Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Brad Weber, McKenzie started for the ladder-leaders in Round Five.

McKenzie returned to the run-on XV after being named in the No. 15 jersey for the first time this season, while Bryn Gatland was handed the playmaking reins at first five.

The Chiefs celebrated McKenzie’s milestone with a hard-fought 24-14 win, as they maintained their unbeaten start to the season – now, the only undefeated side after five games.

Reflecting on the significance of the achievement, the 27-year-old said he was “proud to be part of a special group.”

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“It’s special,” McKenzie told Sky Sport after the match. “It’s a club I hold dear to my heart, moved up to Hamilton about 10 years ago and never looked back, it’s the greatest move I’ve made.

“Some lifelong friends come to work every day with these boys, and put a smile on my face and we get busy and go to work and it’s good fun.

“Tonight, it was nice to get a win, and hopefully, celebrate it after this. I just want to thank the Tahs as well for a hard-fought game.

“Obviously, my family has come over as well, so appreciate all the support they’ve shown throughout my whole career. They’ll drop everything at the drop of a hat to come and support me, (I) appreciate that.

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“It’s a special region – Chiefs country, and I’m proud to be a part of it, and proud to be part of a special group.”

The Chiefs opened the scoring through flyhalf Bryn Gatland in just the fourth minute. It was all one-way traffic for the opening 15 minute or so, but rugby can be a funny game.

Against the run of play, try-scoring hero Bryn Gatland through an intercept – with Waratahs captain Jake Gordon picking off a pass, as he ran 40-metres to the house for a crucial score.

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Just like that, the Tahs had drawn level.

The Chiefs unleashed wave after wave of attacking pressure throughout the remainder of the half, which included a number of try-scoring opportunities deep inside the Tahs’ 22.

But the hosts held on.

The two teams went into the half time break locked at 7-all, and the Tahs continued to fight deep into the second term.

But after 75 minutes of play, winger Emoni Narawa helped the Chiefs lock up their fifth win of the season with his second try of the night.

“A real arm wrestle, we were describing it like that at halftime too,” co-captain Sam Cane told Sky Sport.

But to be fair, it’s what we expected (from) the Waratahs, despite some of the results not going their way, they’re a quality outfit.

“We were really just hoping tonight they didn’t quite click and put all the pieces together, btu they put us under a lot of pressure and as a result (we) ended up dropping a lot of pill.

“Discipline wasn’t always the best, and it was a real arm wrestle. They defended extremely well, and we had to work really hard for it tonight.

“Just getting our ball carry right, we were running a little bit too high. They were having quite a loss of success holding us up, and if they weren’t holding us up, they were giving us really slow ball.

“Our whole game flows around that, when we get that sort of ball, we’ve got the shape and the backs that can create one-on-ones, so that’s the area of improvement.

“We’re just really pleased to grind out a tough win, they’re not always pretty, you take a lot of confidence from those because they’re the real character games and it’s really nice we can get a good win (for) our mate Damian on his 100th – he’s a special man.”

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