Damian McKenzie: Wrong or right move to stick with Chiefs?

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

Has Damian McKenzie helped or hurt his All Blacks aspirations by re-signing with the Chiefs for another two years?

Chris Rattue - The wrong move

McKenzie can make a gap out of nothing, but he's turned down a large one there for the taking. Wrong move kid, although understandable it has to be said.

At 21, and with terrific form on the board, he was more than ready to become the central figure for the Blues, and kick-start his All Black career in the best direction. It was a perfect time and opportunity to quit being a boy at the Chiefs and become a man next door.

McKenzie had great choices to make as befits a player of his stunning ability and potential, so in many ways he couldn't get it wrong. But he hasn't got it dead right either by staying at the Chiefs where Aaron Cruden appears to have a lock on the first five-eighths job.

The brilliantly run Chiefs have been superb for McKenzie but he needed to be more singleminded about his future.

McKenzie has been a revelation at fullback-cum-first receiver. But No. 10 is his true position and despite the so-called rise of the little blokes, I don't believe the All Blacks should flirt with a midget fullback.

McKenzie is the best All Blacks No. 10 prospect by far out of a talented bunch, including - vitally - on the goalkicking factor. The Blues are building credibility under Tana Umaga, although only slowly it has to be said. Being part of a Blues revival, showing that he can lead, learning how to lead, would have been the making of him.

First five-eighths is the place where he can best storm the rugby world, and Ben Smith is untouchable as the All Blacks' fullback. By staying at the Chiefs, he'll also live with Dave Rennie's goalkicking dilemma around the wonky Cruden.

I believe Steve Hansen should hurl McKenzie into the fray against Wales, on the bench as the No. 10/utility backup to Aaron Cruden with an eye to getting him into the starters ASAP. McKenzie is ready to make many leaps, but unfortunately he's turned the first obvious one down.

Wynne Gray - The right move

The Clash had a number one single with 'Should I stay or should I go now?'

That sort of dilemma may have run past Damian McKenzie as he decided whether to stay at the Chiefs for two more years or pick up another franchise offer.

For most of his rugby life he's been a first five eighths and his size and skills fit well into that role.

However the Chiefs have All Black five eighths Aaron Cruden and he's not going anywhere so McKenzie has been given the No 15 jersey alongside a roving role as playmaker.

What's not to like? He's firming for a place in the All Black squad for the June test series against Wales and is one of the key components in the Chiefs' armoury.

Where else would he get coaching and tuition from people like Dave Rennie, Andrew Strawbridge and Kieran Keane on top of the advice Wayne Smith delivered last year and will repeat if McKenzie breaks into the national squad.

McKenzie will get another year learning from those men and picking up all the advice from Cruden and Stephen Donald who have felt the burn at test level.

He can watch their work up close and add to their arsenal while broadening his playing scope at fullback.

It may be that Rennie moves on at the end of the 2017 Super rugby year but why waste all that knowledge in search of permanent five eighths work. With who, the Blues?

They have struggled for the last decade and nothing suggests a move there will increase anything for McKenzie other than time in the No 10 uniform. The Blues have steadied this season but do not have the widespread chances McKenzie can work with at the Chiefs.

In one of those orchestrated announcements this week, McKenzie said "the team environment is one of a kind and the wider organization has been very helpful with my transition and career so far."

Why ditch that for personal gain with no guarantees of continued development?

We often hear about rugby being a team game and how sides prosper if all the units work towards a common goal rather than individual targets. It's the sort of mantra the Highlanders work from and the Chiefs embrace and McKenzie has grasped big time.

- NZ Herald

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