Rugby: Student Damian McKenzie out to upset his teacher

By Kris Shannon

Damian McKenzie wants to kick on in Dunedin. Photo / Getty Images
Damian McKenzie wants to kick on in Dunedin. Photo / Getty Images

After spending four weeks learning off the best fullback in the game, Damian McKenzie will now attempt to apply those lessons in a showdown with Ben Smith and the defending-champion Highlanders.

McKenzie on Friday night enjoyed the type of performance that saw him earn an All Blacks call-up, proving far too elusive and electric for the Reds in the Chiefs' record-breaking win in Brisbane. The 21-year-old scored two tries as part of a 20-point haul, running for 95 metres and making four clean breaks to help his side achieve the biggest win in franchise history.

The 45-point victory helped the Chiefs maintain their narrow lead atop the New Zealand conference, with only a trip to Dunedin separating them from the sole home quarter-final available to Kiwi sides. And if they do eventually earn home advantage, McKenzie's efforts this season will have been a big reason why.

Leading the competition in carries (185), defenders beaten (59) and offloads (25), McKenzie's breakout campaign will almost certainly culminate with an All Black debut.

That box was left unticked in June when McKenzie failed to take the field against Wales. But the youngster made the most of his time in the All Blacks environment, soaking up the advice of Smith and Israel Dagg.

"You always want to play but I didn't expect too much early on," McKenzie told Newstalk ZB yesterday. "I was just trying to learn on the way, and I did that. Obviously learning off the likes of Izzy and Bender, who both play the same position, was really helpful as well."

If Smith was helpful last month, he'll only be a hindrance to McKenzie and the Chiefs on Saturday night. The Highlanders handed the Chiefs one of their three defeats earlier in the season and have now emerged triumphant in five straight fixtures between the two sides, including a knockout blow in last year's playoffs.

Reversing that trend is essential if the Chiefs are to seal top spot in the conference, with McKenzie hoping Forsyth Barr Stadium will be kinder to an attack that's struggled to an average of 15.6 points in their last five meetings with the Highlanders.

"It's always great going to Dunedin and playing under the roof - you're always guaranteed a dry deck, which will be awesome," he said. "They're tracking along very well so it's going to be a massive game."

- NZ Herald

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