Damian McKenzie fans should be rejoicing. Count me in. The All Blacks have also been steered down the right path.

Aaron Cruden's premature departure from New Zealand rugby will be the making of McKenzie, and McKenzie is the future. Cruden, sadly, had turned into the nearly man. Cruden saw the signs and signed for a French club after this season. He got it dead right.

This is not to denigrate Cruden, and many rugby nations would kill for a No. 10 of his ability. His story, the rise from cancer, is inspirational, even if it has been buried in the team-ethos machismo of New Zealand's national game. He is no mug on the field, that's for sure.

But, and it is a big but, his career has not been what we expected, nor taken rugby to new horizons as it might.


For whatever reasons, Cruden has fallen short as the heir to Dan Carter. He failed to command the No. 10 jersey, leaving the door open for Beauden Barrett. And Barrett doesn't need an invitation to take a gap.

Still available at No. 10 for the Chiefs, and moved to the test bench, Cruden was also muddying the waters when it came to promoting the stunning McKenzie.

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McKenzie blundered by not leaving the Chiefs to become the main man at the Blues. The All Blacks would have expected a more astute career statement from their potential on-field commander. Despite his courage, the tiny 21-year-old is no fullback, where he is being forced to play.

Many teams use multiple pivots, so a fullback like McKenzie would still operate as part-playmaker. But that was not the way to develop his true potential in his rightful position, so he could learn how to command tight games. He also needs to take on the mantle as his Super team's undisputed goal kicker. Slotting around Cruden was not the way to go.

As Cruden prepares for his final season in New Zealand, the question has to be this: what the heck has gone wrong with his career?

There have been highs such as Steve Hansen raving about the way Cruden steered the All Blacks in their 2014 Bledisloe Cup demolition job in Auckland.

For my money, his cameo, before injury struck, against Ireland in Hamilton in 2012 rates as one of the most memorable performances ever by a test player. That's the guy we kept looking for, often in vain.

He kicked one of the great goals to win that extraordinary test against Ireland in 2013.
Cruden has been integral to the rise of the Chiefs, from lovable losers to trophy hunters.

And yet, the knee injury which forced him off the field in the 2011 World Cup final feels more representative of the way his career has gone. Expectations have not been met. Success has come in fits and starts. Vitally, he failed to become a world class goalkicker.

There has been Carter's shadow to deal with, and Carter kept popping out of the shadows. Then Barrett fired up, and how.

There was a missed All Blacks flight, and being associated with the plunging reputation of the Chiefs players. He even started with a pointless, ridiculous anti-media comment while confirming, via video, his move to Montpelier.

There is a lot of water to flow under the bridge this year, and the Lions series will break and make reputations on both sides. If Cruden is the right man to face the Lions, then he should be selected. Maybe a redemption story, a fairytale finish, awaits.

Beyond that, the time is right to push McKenzie and his searing attack to the forefront, including from the test bench. McKenzie can be everything Cruden should have been, and more. He might start by proving himself a fine goalkicker.