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‘It’s Richie’s turn’: Why Damian McKenzie missed out on All Blacks selection

By Finn Morton
Damian McKenzie of the All Blacks celebrates with team mate Richie Mo'unga after scoring a try during the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australia Wallabies at Eden Park on August 07, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

All Blacks coach Ian Foster has explained the somewhat surprising decision to leave Damian McKenzie out of the matchday squad to take on fierce rivals South Africa in Auckland on Saturday.

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If you’re reading this article and you love this sport, chances are you’ve heard the saying ‘a week is a long time in Test rugby.’

When the All Blacks named their first side of 2023 to take on Los Pumas in Mendoza about a week ago, McKenzie had won the race to start in the No. 10 jersey ahead of Richie Mo’unga.

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McKenzie was visibly excited in the leadup to the Test after being given the “first crack” at the famous jersey, while Beauden Barrett was named to start at fullback.

Following a shaky start at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, which saw Pablo Matera charge down a McKenzie kick after about 20 seconds, the playmaker sprung into form.

McKenzie finished with three try assists in perfect conditions. The flyhalf had a mixed night off the kicking tee though, which was a minor blemish on an otherwise promising display.

But now, ahead of the All Blacks’ highly anticipated clash with world champions South Africa, McKenzie has been left out of the matchday side altogether.

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Crusaders pivot Richie Mo’unga will start in the No. 10 jersey, while Beauden Barrett has retained his spot out the back.

“We looked at both 10s, both Richie and Damian. Pretty excited with their form at the end of the Super season,” coach Ian Foster told reporters on Thursday.

“Really pleased with Damian. I think we stated why we started Damian last week, that was a chance to get him in there, he’s been out for a long time, out of our squad so it’s a chance for him to go and play.

“Really enjoyed his game… it also gave Richie a chance to have a little bit of a breather. They’ve both had big minutes in Super Rugby, amongst the highest out of all our backs.

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“Now it’s Richie’s turn.”

McKenzie may have made a statement last weekend, but the All Blacks couldn’t fit him in their team to play the Springboks at all.

There wasn’t even room on the bench for the 41-Test All Black.

Utility Braydon Ennor has been named in the No. 22 jersey, and Caleb Clarke will also look to provide impact against a tiring Boks outfit. The All Blacks have gone with a 5-3 split.

“If you look at what Damian did in Super Rugby, he was one of the highest backs (for) minutes in Super Rugby, so we see this as a chance to give him a little bit of a breather,” Foster added.

“Certainly not based on anything else.”

The All Blacks take on the Springboks at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday at 7.05 pm NZST. Following that Test, the Wallabies host Los Pumas in Sydney.

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14 Comments
J
Jonathan 372 days ago

Never any doubt this would happen. RM is still 1st choice at 10. Last week was about giving DM some game time as he is a valuable backup. Richie is a stronger player. He tackles better and is pretty decent at getting turnover ball. He's the 10 you need against the uber-physical Saffas. Don't get me wrong, DMac's a phenomenal talent too, and come RWC time he'll be a valuable addition to the team, but got the tougher physical games we don't have anyone better than Richie at 10.

B
Bruiser 372 days ago

RM has never stepped up against the big boys, the odd good game against Australia. D Mac is the future and present....back him now Foster

G
G 372 days ago

That's the game on Saturday...BB starting, weak back bench (Why not McKenzie or Narawa or Lester or Stevenson)...no x factor but that is Foster!

G
GrahamVF 373 days ago

I think DMac is in the same bracket as the Boks' KLA. They have both booked their plane tickets to France. Now the team management are using these opportunities to see who will make themselves indispensable. Richie and DMac were outstanding for their franchises in the SH competition as was Manie Libbok for the Stormers in the NH comp. Manie was given an opportunity to convert to international level and he took it, albeit with some imperfections. Richie really hasn't made the step up convincingly, so perhaps management is giving him the ultimate test to see if he is really ready for the biggest stage of all.

d
dave 373 days ago

Great to see Richie starting. Also Foster's reasoning for D Mac not on bench. Would have preferred McLeod or Stevenson over Clarke. Rather find out how they go than play someone who, in my opinion, doesn't deserve a place in the squad. Great to see Tamaiti getting a shot. Thoroughly deserved.

D
Def Kiwi 373 days ago

4 games before RWC and still chopping and changing. Should have stuck with Dmac at 10

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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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