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'It's definitely enticing': The 'opportunity' McKenzie has to forge ABs legacy

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Damian McKenzie is yet to commit himself to New Zealand Rugby beyond this year, but admits the “opportunity” to potentially become the All Blacks’ chief playmaker is “enticing.”

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After spending a season in Japan with Tokyo Sungoliath, the Chiefs confirmed in June that McKenzie had signed a deal with NZR through to the end of the 2023 season.

While the 40-Test All Black had been ineligible for international honours earlier in the year, he was overlooked by coach Ian Foster for the end-of-season tour after being made available.

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Clearly, McKenzie has a point to prove in Super Rugby Pacific this year.

With this year’s Rugby World Cup in France just around the corner, the Chiefs flyhalf has certainly staked his selection claim during the early rounds of the new season.

Running out in the No. 10 jersey, McKenzie played a pivotal role in the Chiefs’ staggering 31-10 demolition of defending Super Rugby champions the Crusaders in round one.

McKenzie was also among the standouts during the 52-29 win over Moana Pasifika in Super Round at Melbourne’s AAMI Park on Saturday.

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There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of the All Blacks at the moment – as coaching chaos dominates headlines and players are linked with moves overseas – but McKenzie could be the future of the national team.

Well, that’s if he stays in New Zealand.

While his future is still unknown, McKenzie told RugbyPass that deciding to stay is “enticing” considering All Blacks playmakers Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga are heading to Japan.

“It’s definitely enticing,” McKenzie told RugbyPass.

“Obviously they’ve paved the way as first-fives of the All Blacks the last few years.

“I guess it’s an opportunity where I’ve got to grow my game as a driver of a team and if I try to keep up the good form and get to the higher honours then that would be great.

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“They’re leading the way so it’s great to learn off them, but hopefully I can also push them as well throughout the year.”

While McKenzie added his “ultimate goal” is to both go to a Rugby World Cup and win a Super Rugby title with the Chiefs, the utility back is just taking “each step as it comes.”

The 27-year-old has been one of the standout players from the opening two rounds of the new Super Rugby Pacific season, and he’s done it from first-five.

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After making his name at Super level primarily at fullback – although he’s also played plenty of rugby at No. 10 – McKenzie has showcased his development and potential for further growth this season.

But McKenzie said that he’s not sure “where my home is” on the rugby field yet, despite starring at flyhalf.

“I don’t know where my home is actually but I’m enjoying playing 10, it’s nice to be able to try and be the general of the team and try and run the team,” he said.

“I guess it’s just finding that balance.

“I’m enjoying driving the team around.. it’s going not too bad, still a couple of things to work on so we’ll look at those over the next few weeks.”

The Chiefs stunned the rugby world in their Super Rugby Pacific season opener in Christchurch last Friday.

Historically, Christchurch is the hardest place to win in the competition – truly, it’s become a fortress for the Crusaders, and rarely are their defences breached.

But led by McKenzie, as well as All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Samisoni Taukei’aho, the Chiefs etched their names into history with the 21-point victory.

Following their round two win over Moana Pasifika, with McKenzie scoring 15-points, the Chiefs are currently sitting in first position on the ladder.

Speaking about the idyllic start to the season, McKenzie said he’s come back to New Zealand feeling “rejuvenated” following his stint in Japan.

“It’s nice to be back playing in New Zealand, obviously I had that stint away in Japan which was great, loved it.

“I’ve kind of come back feeling really rejuvenated to get back into Super campaign.

“We’ve had a great preseason, we’ve got a great squad, have a lot of depth so it’s really exciting times.

“Great to start with two wins, two bonus point wins.

“We were pushed tonight, particularly in that second half. Moana came out and probably were a bit hungrier in that second-half than what we were.

“I’m enjoying being back and playing not too bad, still a little rusty.”

After playing in Melbourne, the Chiefs will return to Hamilton for their round three clash against New Zealand rivals the Highlanders on March 10.

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Comments

1 Comment
J
John 468 days ago

I am a Crusader and All Black fan, Richie and Damian are in my opinion the best two 10s in NZ. The biggest difference I believe is Richie plays a very structured game needing the forward pack winning up front where Damian has this uncanny ability to upset dominant teams forcing them back towards their own goal line. Beauden used to have such skill but indecision from coaches regarding his position has I think dented his confidence. However all three names mentioned would walk into any team in the world. Please stay Damian!

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