Sam Whitelock explains the thinking behind McKenzie's monster penalty
While the All Blacks were able to construct a handful of thrilling counter-attacking tries in their 57-22 win over the Wallabies on Saturday night, perhaps the highlight of the match was the 58-metre penalty goal kicked by pocket rocket Damian McKenzie.
The Chiefs playmaker was called upon regularly throughout the Super Rugby season to nudge over important kicks at goal, scoring the winning points from the boot against the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Crusaders at various times.
While McKenzie’s monster kick wasn’t a match-winner for the All Blacks, it was a momentum-builder and a crafty means of keeping time ticking over while the men in black were playing with a man in the bin.
The penalty was McKenzie’s greatest contribution on the night – although the fullback also showed a nice pair of soft hands to release Chiefs teammate Brodie Retallick for a run to the line following an excellent break from Akira Ioane and also regularly threw himself into contact after contact.
The successful kick took the All Blacks out to a commanding 31-15 lead, with McKenzie making way for Jordie Barrett not long after, and some may have questioned the tactical decision from captain Sam Whitelock, given the distance of the kick and the likelihood of success.
Speaking after the match, however, Whitelock said it was his playmakers who came to him after the penalty was awarded to suggest that the shot at goal was the right option.
“It was actually some of the boys [who made the call],” he said. “The boys are smart in their own right and the best thing about this team, this environment, you don’t need to make all the calls yourself.
“I think it was Richie [Mo’unga] that came up to me and said, ‘Look, Damo can have a shot here. We can take a minute and a half off the clock, get Ardie back’. Big Jim just got out there and he’s done it for the Chiefs this year from a long way out so it was great that they have the confidence to call it, rather than me call it and then being not as confident. So really good that they step up and gave me that opportunity to call it.
“Normally if the kicker’s going ‘Giving me the ball, I want to have a go’, you let him have a go. If [he’s] looking down, doesn’t want a bar of it, you normally go somewhere else. So really, really happy with the boys and the way they reacted there.”
Mo’unga was the All Blacks’ regular kicker throughout the game, notching up five conversions on the night, but opted to hand the ball to McKenzie for the penalty.
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The long-range shot was more McKenzie’s specialty, however, according to Whitelock – although the big second-rower acknowledged that there were a few other players in the 23 who have equally as handy boots on them.
“I think Damian just had a little bit legs in him,” said Whitelock. “Obviously David Havili’s another guy that can kick a long way. Jordie on the bench too. It’s great having that option there with a bit of a breeze behind them that you can punish teams if they’re giving away penalties around the middle of the field.”
Head coach Ian Foster put things in golf terms to make the decision-making process more transparent.
“I think Richie’s got a 22 and Damian’s got a 33 so it was a reasonably easy decision,” he said.
The strike from McKenzie should send a warning to teams around the globe that the All Blacks have kickers throughout their side who can punish any infringements from opposition players, no matter how far out indiscretions may occur from the goal line.
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