McKen­zie: I’ve got to get bet­ter

Marlborough Express - - SPORT - MARC HINTON IN PARIS

Dur­ing his day off in Paris Damian McKen­zie ne­go­ti­ated the no­to­ri­ous Arc de Tri­om­phe round­about on a push­bike. It was an ac­tion not with­out res­o­nance, as his All Blacks coach wants him to find sim­i­lar or­der among the chaos of a test match.

McKen­zie re­tains his place at full­back in an All Blacks start­ing XV to face France on Sun­day morn­ing (NZT) fea­tur­ing three changes from Bris­bane three weeks ago. Beau­den Bar­rett is back to run the show at No 10, Vaea Fi­fita steps into No 6 for the ill Liam Squire and Luke Ro­mano is pre­ferred at lock ahead of Scott Bar­rett who drops to the bench.

McKen­zie’s selec­tion was a no­brainer be­cause he has largely made an ex­cel­lent fist of the No 15 role since step­ping in for the sab­bat­i­cal-tak­ing Ben Smith and in­jured Jordie Bar­rett. He has started the last seven tests on the bounce.

But in Bris­bane there was just a hint that among that won­der­fully in­stinc­tive, risk-tak­ing free­dom with which he plays lurks some ques­tion­able judg­ment. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen used the fly in a bot­tle metaphor then, and re­hashed it this week in Paris when talk­ing about the ad­just­ments they want to see from their com­pact but ex­pres­sive No 15.

‘‘I’ve said he’s like a fly in a bot­tle and he’s get­ting bet­ter at that. He’s not hit­ting the sides so of­ten now,’’ ex­plained the All Blacks coach. ‘‘He has to learn how to play test rugby and test rugby is not like Su­per Rugby where you can do au­da­cious things and get away with them.

‘‘We don’t want to stop his flair, but he’s got to get bet­ter at the risk and re­ward con­cept of what he’s try­ing to do. He’s still learn­ing, but he is an ex­cit­ing prospect.’’

Hansen says McKen­zie has got to a point where he’s now chal­leng­ing Jordie Bar­rett for the backup full­back job be­hind Smith, but con­firmed they re­tain a more fluid vi­sion of his fu­ture role.

‘‘We’ll see him at 10 all next year in Su­per Rugby which is go­ing to be ex­cit­ing. Deep down in my heart of hearts I think that’s where he’ll end up play­ing most of his rugby.’’

McKen­zie isn’t think­ing his fu­ture just now. He’s got a Bris­bane de­feat, and a flea in his ear around op­tion-tak­ing that

‘‘Com­ing off a loss you want to get straight back out there and prove your­self again.’’ Damian McKen­zie

didn’t best please his coaches, to erase.

‘‘Com­ing off a loss you want to get straight back out there and prove your­self again,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s been a long three-week wait. It was my first loss in the black jersey, and took a while to sink in. It was a good learn­ing.’’

That learn­ing? ‘‘Just around my op­tion-tak­ing, what’s right and not right, and be­ing smart around

my footy. At times I like to take a few risks, but it’s try­ing to get that bal­ance be­tween high risk and high re­ward.

‘‘It’s not about chang­ing any­thing dra­mat­i­cally, but im­prov­ing the lit­tle things, the most im­por­tant things. I learnt a lot that game.’’

On Wed­nes­day in this beau­ti­ful city he went on a cy­cle tour that took in the Lou­vre, the Notre Dame cathe­dral and that Arc de Tri­om­phe cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion that re­quires a mix of brav­ery and fine judg­ment.

‘‘It got the heart tick­ing over for a cou­ple of min­utes,’’ he said of the round­about. ‘‘The driv­ing is a bit dif­fer­ent in Paris com­pared to back home. I don’t know if there are any rules over here. You just drive where there’s space.’’

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