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

Chris Rattue: McKenzie should backtrack and pick Blues

Damian McKenzie spurned the advances of other sides and opted to recommit to the Chiefs. Photo / Getty
Damian McKenzie spurned the advances of other sides and opted to recommit to the Chiefs. Photo / Getty

The Chiefs' capitulation against the mightily impressive Highlanders produced more evidence why Damian McKenzie got it wrong turning down the Blues. He should seriously consider a u-turn.

As amazing as he has been in the No 15 jersey, McKenzie is not a fullback. For starters, he's too small.

The Highlanders were tactically and physically supreme at Waikato Stadium and look ready to mount a resolute defence of their title. It was a stirring performance from the southerners.

McKenzie had his moments, but was not secure with the ball and struggled against imposing opponents who swarmed all over the disjointed Chiefs.

McKenzie is one of the most amazing prospects in New Zealand rugby, but he is not a fullback, even at this point in his young career. At the end of Saturday night's match, the little Southlander was trying to produce miracles and it wasn't working in a depleted Chiefs outfit which has lost its mojo.

I am convinced that McKenzie should have grasped the chance to join the Blues where he would run the show at first five-eighths, so he could learn game management and how to unleash his brilliant running and passing at the right times. Overplaying his hand from fullback is not the way forward.

It's also frightening watching such a little man make extraordinary leaps forward to take opposition bombs - one day, a landing will not go well. The Highlanders certainly saw McKenzie as a potential weak point, sending bombing raids his way early.

His defence was found wanting a couple of times. He is very brave, but that won't always compensate for a lack of bulk. Risking his little body and large spirit getting dented is silly, when this should not be his job.

Steve Hansen, Grant Fox and Ian Foster, who were in the stands, will have noted how Waisake Naholo - who was hit by McKenzie about four metres from the line - steamrolled through the fullback. The returning Naholo was in a brilliant mood, but a bigger fullback would have made the powerful right wing at least work harder for the try than McKenzie could.

Instead of launching his body in defence, McKenzie needs to learn the art - perfected by Dan Carter - of lowering opponents while limiting the physical risk. Coaches do not want their playmakers and goalkickers hurtling into harm's way all the time.

The Blues were the most perfect fit for McKenzie, where he could also hone his goalkicking rather than being part of a confusing tag-team with Aaron Cruden which won't help either of them. Being handed the odd long-range shot is not the way to build his confidence and rhythm.

Yes, the Chiefs deal is signed. But New Zealand Rugby runs the show here, and sports contracts can be broken.

Tough task

Referees face impossible decisions sometimes, and the Charlie Ngatai yellow card ruling was one of them. At least it didn't influence the outcome. The Highlanders were far too good for the Chiefs in Hamilton. Thankfully Ngatai didn't get a red card, a possible ruling raised (I think) by the TMO.

Yes, Ngatai, did do a lifting action, so on the face of it he deserved penalising. But you could also argue that it was a reaction to ball carrier Elliott Dixon's leap.

If a player suddenly leaps towards a defender, the natural reaction must be to respond accordingly, which produces what seems like an illegal lifting motion. Otherwise, Ngatai's attempted tackle is going to be too low to have full impact. So the decision was both correct and unfair, to my mind. Who would be a ref in situations like that?

Island brilliance

What brilliant test league...and we're not talking about the Kiwis and Kangaroos.

Samoa v Tonga in Sydney was played with feeling. Australia v New Zealand was an exercise in going through the motions.

Saturday's Pacific Island matchup is being generally viewed like a crazy and pulsating blast from the past. In contrast, the less said about Friday night's insipid test in Newcastle the better ... but what the heck, let's have a go anyway.

It was an almighty bore, with the Kiwis hardly firing an attacking shot and the Australian veterans going through their well worked Queensland-based routines. A mate of mine thought the Kiwis simply set out to keep the margin of defeat down which sums it up nicely, rightly or wrongly.

It's not entirely halfback Shaun Johnson's fault - playing representative league without a proper dummy half is like trying to run the 100m dash in gumboots. But he was a significant part of the blunt edge.

Johnson is either carrying an injury or has lost his confidence or is falling between a couple of stools. Maybe it is the latter. Instead of running free, he was obsessed with being Central Control, and ended up doing a bad version of Cooper Cronk. It was sad to watch.

The atmosphere wasn't helped by the Channel 9 commentary team. Peter Sterling lamented the loss of Issac Luke, the dropped Kiwi hooker. Sterling thought Warriors recruit Luke was still playing for South Sydney, twice, which was awkward and also suggested no one could be bothered correcting him the first time.

Lead commentator Ray Warren sounded vaguely bored, and Phil Gould probably went into the game seeking validation for his view that the Aussie team is too old. The Warren-Gould double act, traditionally based on mock arguments, has been sounding tired in recent seasons but it doesn't work for internationals anyway because the banter is too in-house. Fox now provides the commentators for NRL coverage in New Zealand, and their top duo of Andrew Voss and Greg "Brandy"Alexander would have done a better and more enthusiastic job from Newcastle.

NRL dominant

Further to of the problems with Kiwis-Kangaroos tests is that they look too much like an NRL game. As a point of difference, I'd scrap the referee's ability to put players on report during test matches. This only adds to the feeling that tests are an extension of the NRL competition.

- NZ Herald

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