Chiefs and All Blacks dynamo Damian McKenzie was one of the best entertainers in this year’s Super Rugby season. With the Chiefs bowing out to the Hurricanes in Friday night’s quarter final, RugbyPass reviews his top 10 plays of the season.
10. Catch me if you can
Damian McKenzie’s ‘escapability’ is off the charts. Just when you think he’s caught for all money he will slip the tackle and turn nothing into something. It’s becoming a hallmark of his play and what makes him one of the most exciting players in the competition.
In Round 8 against the Hurricanes, the play breaks down as McKenzie is under all sorts of pressure out the back. He beats the rush defender, escaping to the outside and keeps the ball alive. The Chiefs score in the corner at a crucial point in the game to stay in touch.
Despite going on to lose the match, this was a perfect example of his ability to recover from a bad situation and make a play.
9. Counter-attack try vs Sunwolves
As a fullback over the last two seasons, McKenzie routinely dazzled from the back on the counter.
This year was more subdued as he spent more time in the frontline, with Alaimalo emerging as a dangerous return man. On one of the few highlights from the back, McKenzie combines with his brother to turn a sticky situation into a long-range try under the posts.
8. Strip-steal and clearance vs Blues
In Round 3 at Eden Park, both sides were coming off first up losses and desperate to get a conference win. Holding a six-point lead with eight minutes remaining, McKenzie’s defensive kicking game played a massive part in closing out the victory and holding onto the slim lead.
This play was a double whammy, turning over the ball and driving the Blues back deep into their own 22 with a perfectly placed kick. He hit another excellent touch finder with just two minutes remaining, keeping the Blues from having any real try-scoring chance into the final minute.
The Blues butchered the lineout throw but McKenzie’s big kicking plays in the period 15 minutes prior were just as influential at keeping the Blues out.
7. Cat and Mouse vs Barrett
In Round 8 the two All Blacks first fives dueled at the Caketin, with the incumbent Barrett getting the best of McKenzie on the night.
That didn’t stop McKenzie playing Barrett perfectly on this line break assist. The intercept mogul Barrett rushes out of the line looking for a loose pass but McKenzie holds the ball up, delaying the pass to ensure that Barrett overruns it. He hits Johnny Fa’auli in the open running lane left by Barrett’s over-eagerness.
There was a hint of a forward pass but the read and reaction was brilliant from McKenzie.
6. Skinning the Sunwolves
His long passing game got better and better as the season went on, especially on dry tracks with little wind like this day in Tokyo. McKenzie has had problems with intercepts as a result of chancing his arm with massive cutouts.
On this occasion, he skins the Sunwolves down the short side with a rocket straight to the open winger Pulu on the sideline. The fastball puts Pulu in space and he returns the favour by passing back inside for McKenzie to finish off on a beautiful 1-2 play. As the Chiefs smashed the Sunwolves 61-10, he had his best day of the season scoring two tries and laying on two more.
5. Game sealing try vs Waratahs
With time up on the clock, the Chiefs have the lead with one play remaining.
Instead of kicking the ball out, the Chiefs run a switch play from the scrum back to McKenzie to the openside. From a standing start, he beats his man to the outside and scampers around underneath the posts to seal the win and steal the bonus point away from the visiting Waratahs.
4. Two touches, all class
The ability to get up and be involved in multiple phases is a quality that great attacking first-fives possess.
Against the Highlanders in Round 7, McKenzie had one of his best games of the season. With halftime approaching, he starts to get involved more and dictate terms with the defence. On his first touch, he sends Anton Lienert-Brown on a probing run by playing him back inside. He commits the Highlanders defender and takes a shot in the process.
He is able to get back up, return to first receiver and call for the ball on the very next phase. Using front foot ball, he flattens up and puts a chip-kick over to winger Pulu, who bats the ball back in-field to Alaimalo to score.
His lead-up work was exceptional and his side was rewarded with a defining try. The Chiefs took the lead into the break and went onto win the match.
3. No-look cutout pass vs Highlanders
There are very few humans who can fire a 25-metre rainbow left-to-right and hit the runner on the chest. McKenzie is one of them.
When you consider the pressure he is under on this play, it makes it even better. Without having any time to sight his target, he turns and fires all in one motion, hitting Liam Messam out wide in space. The degree of difficulty involved is monumental, and this highlight starts to reach video-game levels. This is unreal.
2. Over-the-top Basketball pass vs Blues
Heading into the return derby against the Blues in Round 8, Tana Umaga’s men were under immense pressure to get a win against a New Zealand side. The Chiefs were decimated by injuries and it looked like finally happening.
In the opening stanza, McKenzie sparked the Chiefs early with two quality touches in this wide movement, backing up a long pass with an over-the-top basketball assist to a flying Sean Wainui. In a tight contest, this big play ended up playing a role as the Chiefs came away with a tight 21-19 win.
1. Behind the back and follow-up try vs Brumbies
This was again another example of two classy back-to-back touches and striking while the iron is hot.
This outlandish behind the back ball to halfback Brad Weber takes the cake for Damian McKenzie’s top Super Rugby plays of 2018. In full stride, the playmaker has the audacity to throw a ‘globetrotter’ ball before getting hammered. With the Chiefs having made the initial break, McKenzie works back to get another touch and finds himself with two lumbering forwards still retreating.
With a touch of acceleration, the playmaker breaks through the reaching grasp of the Brumbies defender and runs away to finish off the movement.