McMillan hints that Damian McKenzie is set for a Super Rugby rest
Super Rugby Trans-Tasman can’t arrive fast enough.
That’s not because the rugby on show in either the Aotearoa and AU competitions isn’t to a high enough standard – because that’s obviously not the case. And it’s not because fans are getting a little bit bored with playing the same old teams week-in and week-out – although there may be some truth to that.
It’s simply because week after week, clubs are having to field their top teams, knowing that every match could be the one that decides the fate of their season.
When the Trans-Tasman competition arrives in a month’s time, there’ll finally be time for top players to take a rest from the action and see if their sides can handle the rigours of playing against foreign opposition without always having the best and busiest to call upon.
Damian McKenzie is one such man, having played in all 480 minutes of the Chiefs’ campaign to date.
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The All Blacks fullback is due a weekend off – but every week for the past month has effectively been a knockout game for the Chiefs after losing their opening two matches of the competition. Since their defeat at the hands of the Crusaders in Round 3 of the competition, the Hamilton-based side have strung together four successive victories and despite the Hurricanes being bottom of the table, coach Clayton McMillan isn’t about to rest one of his top players.
“We’ve won some games at the death – a lot of games at the death,” said McMillan on Wednesday. “What we learned last year is that it could easily go the other way. I think the Hurricanes, to a certain extent, are probably feeling the same way that we probably felt last year.”
A win on Friday will get the Chiefs one foot in the grand final and while a loss wouldn’t end their chances, it will guarantee that they need to secure an away victory against the Blues in Auckland a week later.
As such, a rest for McKenzie simply wasn’t on the cards, with the utility back named to start in the No 15 jersey.
“At the beginning of every week or the end of every week, we look at injuries, we look at workloads, we look at people in key positions,” said McMillan, “and he’s someone who’s played big minutes and so at some stage we need to look to give him an opportunity to have a bit of a rest.”
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McKenzie has been a key figure in the Chiefs’ victories, scoring late-game match-winning points against the Blues, Highlanders and Crusaders. He also helped spark a massive comeback against the Hurricanes in his side’s first win of their 2021 campaign after shifting from fullback into first five late in the match.
McKenzie started last weekend’s win against the Crusaders at No 10 but is back wearing No 15 this week, with Bryn Gatland taking over the playmaking duties.
“We were really stoked with how [McKenzie] played at 10 last week, but also equally happy with how Bryn did in the last game [coming off the bench],” McMillan said.
One key cog in the Chiefs engine room will sit out Friday’s match, however, with Luke Jacobson sidelined through concussion. McMillan sought to quell fears about any long-term concerns for the loose forward, who’s dealt with his fair share of concussions throughout his career to date.
“He’s in there in the gym this morning, [but] given his history of taking a few dings, we want to be extra cautious, but he’s looking fine,” said the coach. “He woke up on Sunday and felt a little dusty, so straight away, we ruled him out for the week.
“He’s gonna bounce back really quickly but this little setback is timely I think because we probably would have considered giving him some time out at the end of this week or next week anyway.”
Friday evening’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT from Hamilton.
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