Free Damian McKenzie, which means the sharpest tool in the impressive New Zealand rugby shed needs to find a new home, writes Chris Rattue for NZHerald
That message came over loud and clear as the Chiefs pinched a weird victory against the Hurricanes. Fair play to the Chiefs, who have nurtured McKenzie’s amazing gifts so well.
But the real influence he can exert is being wasted at full back.
Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane gave one of the most encouragingly frank post-game rugby interviews in some time on Saturday night. Bloodied and bemused, Cane questioned how his team had won. Here’s the answer Sam – Damian McKenzie.
If Dave Rennie can’t find a way to get McKenzie into his rightful position at first five-eighths – which would mean dropping Aaron Cruden – the little magic man should think on a shift to the Blues or Crusaders. McKenzie deserves his own team to run, and it’s also in the All Blacks’ best interests.
Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett kind of booted themselves OUT of the All Black starters in contrasting ways.
Barrett was probably the man of the match with his sparkling running. But Barrett’s goalkicking was abysmal and he even hoofed the ball dead while trying to peel off too much territory from a penalty. Barrett has a casual approach to the ball, at odds with the trend for complex routines. The results, unfortunately, make him look like a part-time duffer.
But at least he was taking the shots unlike Cruden, Dan Carter’s heir apparent. Rennie got it dead right though. McKenzie’s goalkicking essentially won this game for the Chiefs.
McKenzie is the future for the All Blacks. I’m absolutely convinced of it. Highlander Lima Sopoaga is a decent goalkicker but his attack only simmers compared to McKenzie’s rapid boil.
The 21-year-old McKenzie turned a match of erratic standards with a couple of scintillating moments, and stunningly good goalkicking.
Barrett should know the Wellington stadium like the back of his hand, but it looked like he was kicking with the back of his foot and he got the boot during the match.
McKenzie, in telling contrast, nailed his goals including a couple from the sideline. One of them bent back beautifully, as if on remote control in the tricky wind conditions.
McKenzie is playing in a sort of dual pivot system under Rennie but first five-eighths is his true position.
He could revolutionise the All Black backline, and send the rest of world rugby into even more of a tail spin against the untamed might of the New Zealand side.
I suspect Steve Hansen has already seen enough to know that McKenzie is the future.
Cruden and Barrett keep proving they are not up to the job on goalkicking alone.
Cruden was drawn into too much defence on Saturday night and was hampered by a pack that scrummed like they were milling around a buffet table. He had a poor game.
Not long ago, Cruden was the next great thing but time waits for no one in rugby these days. Cruden deserves some loyalty at the Chiefs. But give McKenzie a team to run, and say hello to a superstar.