For me, the Highlanders v Chiefs match in Dunedin tomorrow is the match of the round given their recent history against each other and what's at stake.

I'm a big fan of both teams for the way they can travel and win, but you would have to think after the travel these teams have done recently, especially the Highlanders, that if they don't give themselves a chance of home advantage in the playoffs by winning this match they could face some logistical nightmares over the next few weeks. This match is critical.

One guy becoming the most influential at the Chiefs in my opinion is Damian McKenzie.

He was superb in both of his team's round-robin victories over the Crusaders, scoring 12 points in Christchurch, and hurting them with his goalkicking and line-breaking against an excellent defensive team in Fiji.


If the Highlanders are going to win they need to shut him down. Why is he so hard to tackle given he is so slight physically? It's down to a couple of things. When he makes a decision to run, he gives it 100 per cent. A lot of players in similar positions will slightly decelerate when they weigh up where they are going to attack, and either accelerate into contact or into space. That can be by going slightly lateral and bringing a defender across, and backs tend to beat forwards by doing this. Many forwards think that's as fast as the back can go and are fooled by the change of pace.

But McKenzie is different - he accelerates straight away. He makes up his mind where he wants to go and does it at 100km/h even when he's running laterally. He reminds me to a degree of former All Black Christian Cullen and former Wales wing Shane Williams. I played with both, the latter at Ospreys for three years, and they both had that ability to beat a player laterally without losing speed.

McKenzie's method also takes bravery. When he goes into contact it looks like he's been belted by the defender, but a lot of that impact comes from him - the force and acceleration that he goes into contact with. He doesn't hesitate and that's a rare trait because it takes a lot of courage. A lot of players will decelerate when the gap closes, almost admit defeat, and try to control the collision. McKenzie goes into that area with the mindset he started with and that helps him break the line regularly.

He has a great all-round game. He reads the game well and his defence is very good, but for me his ability to break the line with his speed is what other players don't have.

I played a lot of rugby at the Woodlands club with his father, Brent, who, like Damian, played at fullback and first-five. He was a very good player in his own right, representing Southland. Interestingly, he says his son is a better first-five than a fullback. Starting at fullback in Dunedin tomorrow with Aaron Cruden calling the shots at No10, it will be intriguing to see how McKenzie's career develops and where he finds himself on the field in future.

15 Jul, 2016 12:30pm
3 minutes to read