Rugby: McKenzie promoted to Chiefs squad

By Campbell Burnes

Damian McKenzie (centre) in action against Samoa, during the Pool C rugby match between New Zealand and Samoa at the IRB Junior World Championship. Photo / Dean Purcell
Damian McKenzie (centre) in action against Samoa, during the Pool C rugby match between New Zealand and Samoa at the IRB Junior World Championship. Photo / Dean Purcell

The rise and rise of Damian McKenzie continues.

Fresh from a starring role, mainly at fullback, for the New Zealand Under 20s during the Junior World Championship, the 19-year-old has been promoted to the Chiefs squad as cover for the injured Robbie Robinson.

McKenzie, in his first year out of school, impressed observers with his speed, elusive running and skilful work under the high ball, but at 78kg, he is seen by the Chiefs as a first-five who can cover 15.

"He's played 10 most of his life, but he has shown incredible adaptability," said Chiefs assistant Wayne Smith. "He was strong in an area I thought he might struggle, under the high ball. He's a ball of muscle and has a frame that you could put some weight on and make him even more explosive."

McKenzie could potentially see game time off the bench as the Chiefs push for the playoffs, but Smith said they were not going to rush him into any situations he didn't feel comfortable.

Centre Anton Lienert-Brown, who skippered the New Zealand side in three of the five JWC matches, is one who has already seen action with the Chiefs. The Chiefs have good cover at both 10 and 15, with Aaron Cruden, Gareth Anscombe, Andrew Horrell and Tim Nanai-Williams in the mix.

Auckland flanker Sean Polwart, back from a month out with concussion, has also been whistled up as cover for Sam Cane, though Tanerau Latimer will be available for Friday's crucial clash with the Highlanders.

The Chiefs have also confirmed two signings, hooker Quentin MacDonald, out of Tasman via Irish club Munster, and halfback Brad Weber, who has already seen plenty of game time in 2014.

MacDonald, in particular, is an astute signing, given Hika Elliot and Mahonri Schwalger will most likely be departing. Though his Super Rugby career, with two different franchises - the Crusaders and Blues - would suggest a journeyman, he is in fact one of the top lineout throwers in the country, highlighted by his 2013 ITM Cup with the Makos.

"Given the well-publicised concern about the All Blacks hookers long-term, you need all those kids back in the country," said Smith.

The Chiefs are in eighth position as they prepare for the fifth-placed Highlanders in Dunedin.

"I just want to see us get our mana back. We probably lost a bit of respect in the last couple of games," said Smith.

The Chiefs have released wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma to play for Fiji against the Cook Islands in this Saturday's winner-takes-all RWC qualifier in Lautoka.

- NZ Herald

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