Pivot comes out of the shadow of Cruden and brother Damian.

After spending the season in the shadow of his younger brother, Marty McKenzie has earned the opening opportunity to fill Aaron Cruden's boots.

The older McKenzie brother has been named at No10 for the encounter with the Western Force tomorrow night, the Chiefs' first outing since Cruden was earlier in the week ruled out for the season with a knee injury.

While 20-year-old Damian has enjoyed regular game time and received rave reviews in his rookie Super Rugby season, 22-year-old Marty has been rarely glimpsed in his maiden campaign with the Chiefs.

McKenzie has made just two appearances off the bench this year, playing a total of 17 minutes, but his performances in pre-season and efforts on the training paddock saw him earn the nod.


The first five has practised exclusively in the position this season, whereas Damian has often been fielded at fullback and Andrew Horrell, the other option at pivot, has occupied the midfield.

That specialisation aided McKenzie's cause and eventually saw him handed the first chance to make the No10 jersey his own in Cruden's absence.

"It is a big opportunity for him and he's earned it," said assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge. "He's trained really well, so he's on the big stage now.

"If anyone in any position has a blinder, they've got a chance to lock down a position. So if [McKenzie] came out and made every post a winner, then he'd definitely be in the frame for re-selection, with all the dice loaded in his favour."

The All Blacks' rest protocols meant Cruden was always going to be excluded against the last-placed Force, creating an internal competition among a trio of worthy candidates. Damian McKenzie started the only other match Cruden missed this season, the opening-round win over the Blues, while Horrell never looked out of place after replacing Cruden in the first half of last week's win against the Crusaders.

But Marty McKenzie has perhaps the best recent pedigree of the group, having spent the season at first five in the title-winning Taranaki team during last year's ITM Cup.

"Marty's right across things," Strawbridge said.

"He understands our patterns and he's pretty assertive with his calling and his game management. That's probably why he's created this opportunity for himself."


The fact the Chiefs are relatively blessed with alternatives to Cruden is a testament to the depth in their squad. While losing one of the world's best will always be a blow, the nature of sport sees a solid plan B a necessity rather than a luxury.

"We've had to face these things before with key players," Strawbridge said.

"It's something that all sports teams are realistic about, and you do your best to create depth in your environment, so that if and when the worst happens and you lose somebody crucial for a length of time, then somebody's ready to take the opportunity.

"It's a dreadful thing for Aaron but we move on. We go on to the next hurdle with the next player and support Aaron as much as we can."

Cruden is not the only All Black who will miss the Force match. Coach Dave Rennie has decided to give Liam Messam one of his required rest weeks, with the captain replaced by Johan Bardoul at blindside flanker and Matt Symons as skipper.

3 things on the game
• Both Damian McKenzie and Andrew Horrell were included among the reserves for the Force match.

• James Lowe was ruled out after sustaining a haematoma on his shoulder, replaced by Bryce Heem.

• Prop Siate Tokolahi gets a start in the front row, with Ben Tameifuna moving to the bench.