Rugby: Henry calls on ABs to pick McKenzie

Henry thinks McKenzie has earned a spot. Photo / Getty Images
Henry thinks McKenzie has earned a spot. Photo / Getty Images

Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry has joined the growing chorus of those saying Damian McKenzie should be picked for the All Blacks to take on Wales next month.

McKenzie has been in terrific form for the Chiefs and many have urged Steve Hansen to pick the 21-year-old in his first squad of the year.

It's questionable, though, whether he can find a place even in a 32-man squad because of the depth in New Zealand rugby and number of proven performers at international level. Hansen has also been loyal throughout his tenure as head coach. Henry, though, thinks McKenzie has earned a spot.

"You don't have to find a position for him but he's picking 30-odd players so he's in there," Henry said in a wide-ranging interview to be aired on Newstalk ZB this afternoon. "He's one injury off being the next cab off the rank. He's ready to go.

"He's just extraordinarily talented. He's quick, has a huge desire to play the game. He just loves playing, you can see it. We are very lucky.

"Hell, if I was Steve Hansen I would be sleeping very well at night. He's got these guys jumping out of their skin and ready to go."

The All Blacks are due to play 14 tests this year, starting with three games against the touring Welsh before the Rugby Championship starting in August and end-of-year tour.

Henry can see the All Blacks dominating again ("it's highly probable") but says Australia will be better than the form of their Super Rugby sides suggests and the Springboks will rally under a new coach. He's also been impressed by the development of Argentina since being included in the Championship in 2012.

But, like many, the World Cup winning coach has been underwhelmed by this year's Super Rugby competition, which added three teams.

"The New Zealand sides are a cut above the others, which is disappointing because you need the other sides strong to have a good competition and increase the interest. The Brumbies have been exceptionally disappointing. They have the most experienced side in the competition, with two-thirds of the starting team starting Australian internationals. I thought they would have been finalists.

"No doubt [the quality of Super Rugby has gone down]. I think it started with five teams in South Africa and Australia. They just don't have the numbers to have five strong teams so the strength of those teams has been dissipated.

"Sanzaar's policy is to have a global game so they have fulfilled that objective but in doing that the quality has decreased.

"We need to be patient. If you look at Argentina, the Pumas were very impressive at the World Cup in making the semfinals. When they first got into the Championship four years ago, they were easy-beats. Now they are competitive."

- Herald on Sunday

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