On and off the field, Damian McKenzie is a thrill seeker.

Behind the wheel, on the foreign side of the road, many New Zealanders would be daunted confronting the no rules madness that is the Arc de Triomphe roundabout in central Paris.

Navigating a safe path amid the free-for-all chaos is no easy feat yet McKenzie and a group of All Blacks had a crack on a bike today.

They emerged unscathed, but in many ways this day off excursion reflects McKenzie's playing style. Nine times out of 10, no matter where on the field or what is in-front of him, his natural instinct is to have a go. Eight times out of 10 he magically pulls it off, too.


That's fine for Super Rugby, where there's more freedom to move and missed opportunities or wrong decisions aren't as costly. Test rugby, though, requires a more balanced approach.

And to date, McKenzie hasn't nailed that brief since stepping in for Ben Smith and Jordie Barrett at fullback.

"He's learning how to play test rugby and test rugby is not like Super Rugby where you can just do audacious things that you can get away with," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "The opposition is a lot sharper; a lot more tuned into making sure their defences are connected."

That's the biggest lesson McKenzie absorbed from his ninth test, and first loss, for the All Blacks against the Wallabies; the need to pick his moments, improve decision-making about when to run, kick or pass, and to find the fine line between high risk and high reward.

He wasn't alone in struggling with this aspect on a wet night in Brisbane, but it remains an area of targeted improvement.

"It took a while to sink in and get over that loss," McKenzie said. "Coming off a loss you want to get straight back out there and prove yourself again. It's been a long three-week wait but I'm excited for this weekend.

"It was probably a good learning for me and what it's like at test level and how I need to improve to better myself for games ahead."

Coach Steve Hansen discusses a couple of the selections points of his team to play France this weekend.

Positionally at least, McKenzie is in a something of a holding pattern. He's likely to start the final three tests of the year at fullback, only to then switch to first five-eighth for the Chiefs next season.


Short term he will probably be used as a livewire test utility. Long term, the All Blacks see him growing into first-five.

"We'll see him at 10 all next year in Super Rugby which is going to be exciting because in my own heart of hearts I think that is where he'll end up playing his rugby," Hansen said.

It's a role he was thrust into in Brisbane; asked to close out that test after replacing Lima Sopoaga who endured similar struggles. While a supreme age-grade talent at No 10, McKenzie's performance there against the Wallabies revealed just how inexperienced he is in the role, and how time is needed to further his development.

"I haven't played a lot of 10. I moved there in the latter part of the Brisbane game. For me at the moment it's about focusing on 15 and throughout the week and having in the back of my mind that I might be needed there later in the game at some stage.

"It's a similar skill set to 10. The difference at 10 is you are controlling and running the team so you're calling the shots and you're one more line ahead in the defence. It's about time in the saddle at 10 to get confidence playing there. It could come next year but for now it's focusing on 15."

All Blacks team:


15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames.

Reserves: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown