Following last weekend’s victory over the Hurricanes, which saw the Chiefs finally put an end to their record-equalling losing streak, there were numerous calls for Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan to shift Damian McKenzie from fullback into the No 10 jersey.
The wider public liked what they saw from the pocket rocket when he took the reins late in the game, spearheading the massive comeback which saw the Chiefs go from 19 points down to winning the game by 6, while Aotearoa Rugby Pod panellists James Parsons and Bryn Hall could also see potential benefits in the positional switch.
McMillan, however, has resisted making the change, instead once again naming McKenzie at fullback, with Kaleb Trask retaining his place at first five-eighth.
Chase Tiatia, McKenzie’s partner in crime in the comeback win, will also spend another week injecting himself from the bench.
Speaking to media following today’s team naming, McMillan explained why he’s kept the faith in 22-year-old Trask.
“There were aspects of Kaleb’s games that were really good and some things that he needed to work on – a bit like just about everybody in the squad,” he said.
On the positive side, Trask regularly challenged the Hurricanes defensive line which provided more space for his outside backs to work with in the win – although there was little reward for that extra space.
Trask also made two crucial errors, however – completely missing a high ball and making a poor clearance kick from inside his in-goal – both of which quickly resulted in tries to the Hurricanes.
Those are easy fixes, however.
“There’s just no need for a bold reaction to remove him,” McMillan said. “I think he’s going to be a hell of a lot better for having the time under his belt last week and he’ll take a step up this week and don’t need to fix what isn’t broken.”
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Somewhat ironically, Trask will line up against Otere Black, who played at No 10 for the McMillan-coached Bay of Plenty side in last year’s Mitre 10 Cup – while Trask was forced to fill in at No 15.
On McKenzie’s work in the second half, McMillan said that some of the magic plays he created were a product of the tired bodies on the pitch, but also suggested that there was a lot more structure to the plays than some would probably give credit for.
“Damo’s done a really good job coming from the back up to the front in the latter part of games when defences are tiring a little bit and he has the potential to run a little bit so don’t see any need to change that at the moment,” said McMillan.
“There’s probably the perception that they’re going out and just free-balling stuff but I actually everything that they did was done in a really composed fashion.
“I think Damo has played with a lot of maturity and his decision making has been really sound – which has probably where he’s been criticised in the past around being a little too much of a renegade and I think he’s really tightened up his game and he’s picking all the right options and the by-product of that is that it looks flash. It looks a little more open and, for lack of a better word, more razzley than what it actually really is.”
McMillan also confirmed that the Chiefs’ coaches had no set time in a game where they planned to shift McKenzie into the No 10 jersey, preferring to get a feel for a match before making the big call.
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In Saturday’s win, for example, the Chiefs were chasing the game and needed to convert opportunities into points.
“Last week, up until the 60th minute, we hadn’t played poorly but we just were struggling to get some points together,” McMillan said, “and we wanted to capitalise on the opportunities that we’d created and if it does get to the point in a game where you want an injection of enthusiasm and pace off the bench, those guys are able to give us that.
“The challenge for them is to be able to do that on a weekly basis too, not just a one-off.”
While the Chiefs ended their 11-match losing streak last weekend, they’ve still not tasted a win at home in seven attempts – not since the Crusaders visited early last year.
McMillan and the rest of the Chiefs family will be hoping they can put a full stop on that run of poor form too, especially in front of their first non-restricted crowd of the year.
Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT and will be broadcast live and on-demand on RugbyPass for subscribers who hold a Super Rugby Aotearoa season pass.
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