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.
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.