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Watch: Damian McKenzie scores second try in as many weeks as Waikato establish themselves as Mitre 10 Cup contenders

(Photo by Masanori Udagawa/Getty Images)

It’s unlikely Waikato will be able to call upon the services of Damian McKenzie for the remainder of the Mitre 10 Cup campaign, but the All Blacks star has certainly made an impact in the two matches he’s played for the Mooloos.

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One of many All Blacks released to play in the opening fortnight of New Zealand’s premier provincial competition, McKenzie returned to Waikato for the first time since 2016 in scintillating fashion in their season-opener against Wellington last weekend.

Scoring a whopping 33 points against a Lions side stacked with All Blacks and Super Rugby talent, the 25-year-old capped off his showing with a blistering 85 metre intercept try to help his side to a 53-28 victory.

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McKenzie continued that vein of form into Waikato’s second match of the season this weekend when they hosted North Harbour, scoring another impressive try, this time using his support play to help the men in red, black and yellow claim a 41-19 win.

Following up a line break by young midfielder Quinn Tupaea, the 23-test fullback was on the receiving end of a draw-and-pass before putting on the afterburners to outpace three North Harbour defenders and cruise in under the posts.

That wasn’t McKenzie’s only significant involvement in the game, with the playmaker showing some deft footwork to play a key role in setting up a try for impressive young halfback Xavier Roe, who crossed for his second score of the game.

It will be players like Roe that Waikato will lean on heavily once McKenzie leaves the squad to link up with the All Blacks in Whakatane on Monday.

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The 21-year-old has been a standout for the Mooloos thus far this season, having scored last week against Wellington to help cement his place as Waikato’s top No. 9 in a position many pundits viewed as an area of weakness before the season kicked off.

Likewise, former Chiefs and Sunwolves flanker Mitch Jacobson has similarly caught the eye since returning to provincial action, and the efforts of Waikato’s less-heralded players will put the side in good stead upon McKenzie’s departure.

The Hamiltonians’ win over North Harbour sees them rocket up to second place on the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership standings with two wins from as many matches, and will look to extend their winning run against fellow table-toppers Tasman in Nelson next week.

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Nickers 1 hours ago
'One of the poorest All Blacks performances I've seen in a long time'

Extreme hyperbole from Biggar. NZ have played far, far worse than that. The 20/21 team was by far the worst of the professional era. Losses to Argentina, shambolic game against Japan and hapless NH tour of 2021. But even that dreadful team were able to put 50 points on Wales and beat them by 38. Much easier to “tear them to pieces” from the commentary box apparently. Ignored by virtually everyone is how good the ABs defence was. That is why England didn’t win, they simply could not score enough points against that defence. The ABs attack was very average, but their defence was world class and that’s what won them the game. Any Wales team that Biggar has ever played for would have found themselves in the same situation and would definitely not have scored tries from those cross kicks. That ABs team beats Biggar’s best Wales team 31 - 13. England’s attack was as good as it was allowed to be by a superior defence. Hats off to Hansen, he has picked up where MacLeod finally got the ABs to last year and not missed a step. England’s attack will be a big worry for Borthwick. They have not established a reliable, repeatable way to break teams down and score points. They were held to some very low scores by average teams in the 6N, and again here didn’t cross 20 points on either occasion. If I was an England fan I would be crying out for a new attack coach. Borthwick would do well to cast his net now, a poor home winter with a faltering attack will start the calls for his job.

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T
Thomas 1 hours ago
'Champions get up when they can't': Matt Williams weighs in on Ireland's win over Boks

While both teams have their particular positives, I think neither team should rest on their laurels. South Africa managed to tie a series against an uncomfortable opponent, that has had their numbers for a couple of years, while trial-running a completely new attack system, that still doesn’t work properly. But one aspect of “it doesn’t work yet” is a transition from attack to defense in broken play, as the Boks leaked three tries in two matches this way, and lost the second match as a result. Ireland avoided a series loss in a hostile environment, and in spite of many key player injuries, while managing to significantly improve and tighten their defense in game 2 (which demonstrates the breadth of their squad as well as their ability to adjust and recalibrate). At the same time, their own attack hadn’t amounted to much, either (save from exploiting the gaps in the Boks’ new system, gaps that won’t be there anymore in a few months’ time), and they haven’t found an answer to the Boks scrum, which almost costed them the 2nd match, if it hadn’t been for pretty much unrepeatable Frawley heroics. In the end, there isn’t much that separates those two sides … which is exactly what we knew before the series already. Back to the drawing board for both teams, the work only just begins for two teams with the highest ambition. Start of a cycle alright.

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FEATURE 'The All Blacks won the series, but not in the way they wanted' 'The All Blacks won the series, but not in the way they wanted'
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