Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Damian McKenzie could be better than Dan Carter

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Damian McKenzie. Photo / Getty
Damian McKenzie. Photo / Getty

Watch out Beauden Barrett. Watch out world. There's a tiny, dancing freight train coming your way named Damian McKenzie.

The Mini Maestro was at it again over the weekend, helping the wondrous Chiefs chop up the usually well-organised Brumbies like a crazed butcher setting about a carcass.

Let's dream a little.

McKenzie looks so good that he can - and I believe will - become a more dangerous test No 10 than Dan Carter, and Aaron Cruden for that matter. The potential is certainly there. Carter had amazing balance and control, was a clever and immaculate defender, and deftly picked his moments to run. He is regarded by some as the best test No 10 ever, although he lacked gifts of men like the 1970s Welsh wizard Phil Bennett, who had rugby's sharpest sidestep, and Stephen Larkham, Australia's ball-in-hand wizard.

Carter destroyed the Lions in his 2005 tour de force, and plotted the All Blacks to a 2015 World Cup triumph.

But he never ran like McKenzie, who can be like Cruden in overdrive and is a hell of a brave defender.

McKenzie is already drawing a crowd, as are the magical Chiefs. Here's an example of his growing fan base. A colleague who is a round-ball fanatic only watches rugby under sufferance but reckons McKenzie is "the one thing in Super Rugby that really makes me want to watch the game". Witnessing someone so small and brave tearing the game apart is exhilarating.

He is playing fullback rather than his favoured first five-eighths role for now, but if he gets the chance to develop the sort of course management Carter exhibited late in the 2015 World Cup, McKenzie will blitz world rugby. We are looking at a player who has the potential to be talked about with reverence forever, like George Nepia, Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu or Carter.

Crucially, McKenzie may have an advantage over his No 10 rivals Cruden and Barrett in goalkicking, although this has yet to be proven over time. He has not been perfect, but there is time to nail this art whereas Cruden and Barrett are still flaky, well into their careers.

McKenzie will continue to goal kick against the Blues on Friday night, but following the bye Cruden will take over from the tee, according to Dave Rennie. The Chiefs coach told Newstalk ZB's Tony Veitch that Cruden had been doing loads of kicking practice, and they wanted to get "volume into him" following the comeback from knee surgery. This must be dependant on Cruden - sacked as kicker mid-match against the Jaguares - doing the business.

Of the No 10 candidates, Lima Sopoaga is the best goalkicker and a keen drop goal taker. Cruden is prone to melt downs, while Barrett strikes the ball beautifully but not often enough in the right direction.

So how to fit McKenzie into an All Black game-day 22?

Barrett is not the only established All Black with an expiry date looming since McKenzie set the Super Rugby competition on fire this year. Fringe choice Sopoaga may be slipping away already - despite his goalkicking - just as he was about to reach the surface. But bench specialist Barrett, and his wonky boot, is the initial established player in danger unless new job descriptions find room for both.

The All Blacks will probably filter McKenzie into the test side via the bench and Cruden - who is hitting great form with the freewheeling Chiefs - has the inside running as the starting No 10, with Ben Smith established as a world beating fullback. At his best, Barrett is a super sub par excellence, with great acceleration. But he doesn't always come off nor have McKenzie's extreme potential for making something out of nothing.

They are both fullback/first-five-eighths utilities, with game breaking abilities, who goal kick. Down the line though, it's shaping as Cruden v McKenzie at No 10, a tricky scenario since they play for the same Super team. Maybe that's where the direction-less Blues could come in.

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The All Blacks have lost a stash of stars as we all know but for my money, only Richie McCaw is irreplaceable. While the departed big names may have had qualities that will be difficult to match, there are players emerging with skills to make the All Blacks even stronger in some regards. But I don't see anyone out there with the presence and impact to match McCaw in his prime, one of the amazing things being that he was always at or near his very best.

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To quote another colleague who watched the Blues v Jaguares and then Chiefs v Brumbies: "It was like watching two different sports." The Blues were often dire at Albany, against a Jaguares team minus their great hooker Agustin Creevy and a fair few others. The Blues rely on moments of individual inspiration rather than collective competence, in this case a Rene Ranger pass off the floor to a fast-following Ihaia West.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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