Wynne Gray pon­ders what sort of test im­pact Damian McKen­zie may have longer term.

WYNNE GRAY IS A FOR­MER SE­NIOR RUGBY WRITER AT THE NEW ZEALAND HER­ALD.

NZ Rugby World - - Contents -

from his test de­but Damian McKen­zie con­tin­ues to turn heads and make us all cu­ri­ous about how the ca­reer of this ul­tra-tal­ented young All Black will pan out.

More suited to five eighths was the word ooz­ing out of the na­tional se­lec­tion cham­bers al­though they did like the choices he of­fered through the back­line.

When Ben Smith took his va­ca­tion then Is­rael Dagg left for knee re­hab, McKen­zie pushed his way to the head of the full­back queue ahead of an­other ris­ing tal­ent David Hav­ili.

There were glitches and riches from McKen­zie, the 22-year-old who moved up the coun­try from In­ver­cargill to the Chiefs and then into the All Blacks.

The small man with the big ticker, who is seen as Aaron Cru­den’s po­si­tional suc­ces­sor at the Chiefs, brought some se­ri­ous pizazz to the test arena.

His usual high-ball se­cu­rity went a lit­tle awol for a time and his im­petu­ous run­ning did not al­ways work out but the hints were strong.

He had to get some bet­ter bal­ance to his work and then the prob­lems would be all for the op­po­si­tion. D Mac was a lit­tle like his crick­et­ing name­sake B Mac, al­ways look­ing for a way to make things hap­pen rather than hold­ing a steady course.

You can pic­ture Steve Hansen and Ian Foster sit­ting McKen­zie down with a cool drink and tak­ing him through his in­di­vid­ual gifts and put­ting that in the con­text of the big All Blacks pic­ture book where they were all skilled ath­letes.

Even if you only have a crack a few times a game son, that’ll cre­ate more panic from the op­po­si­tion won­der­ing when and where you are go­ing to cut loose, Hansen might have sug­gested. Keep the bug­gers guess­ing and your value to this team goes up.

Those words and ac­tions in­ter­sected in Buenos Aires when McKen­zie was one of the stars of an open­ing spell which scup­pered the Pu­mas.

Even if you only have a crack a few times a game son, that’ll cre­ate more panic from the op­po­si­tion won­der­ing when and where you are go­ing to cut loose, Hansen might have sug­gested. Keep the bug­gers guess­ing and your value to this team goes up.’

It didn’t start so promis­ingly when McKen­zie shelled his first pass but from there he was im­pres­sive.

A bril­liant out­side break got him in the clear with cap­tain Kieran Read in sup­port. McKen­zie dum­mied once and you won­dered if he was go­ing to try and beat the last de­fender. Wisely he played the per­cent­ages to send his cap­tain to the line.

Then it was his turn, pick­ing up the ball and tap­ping a penalty so quickly the Pu­mas could not stop his run to the line. Bold and brash some old-timers would say but the con­verted try con­tin­ued the mo­men­tum.

It wasn’t all at­tack ei­ther as he showed with his de­fence and one leap to defuse a Pu­mas kick against a taller op­po­nent on the goalline.

Ad­ven­ture coarses through McKen­zie’s wiry frame, there’s that ex­tra bit of charisma about his play which pushes some into the lime­light and if there were brav­ery awards in rugby, his name would be on the list.

New Zealand rugby has of­ten de­bated flashy against safe and usu­ally come out in favour of re­li­able and de­pend­able. Cru­den was a ter­rific player but was squeezed by Dan Carter for so long then struck in­juries and the ris­ing tal­ent of Beau­den Bar­rett. Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der scooted into the lime­light and just as quickly fell to in­jury. He’s on the come­back and is an­other of the smaller bri­gade tak­ing on the main­frames.

Now it’s McKen­zie whose year in test rugby has been strong with an end of year trip to Europe to tell us more about his fu­ture.

He can play full­back, wing, five eighths and prob­a­bly half­back at a pinch, but he presents a threat from any­where and if fit should be a manda­tory in­clu­sion in the match­day squad.

His work with the Chiefs next year will in­trigue. He wants to play five eighths and the se­lec­tors like that idea too. It may ben­e­fit ev­ery­one and that will be an in­trigu­ing part of next year’s pro­gramme as it un­folds.

ALL THERE Damian McKen­zie has shown he has all the skills to be a suc­cess­ful All Black.

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