With their head coach leaving and a few long-term stalwarts of the club also moving on, there is an end-of-an-era vibe coming off the Chiefs, as they try to play their way to a third Super Rugby title.

But don't be fooled. The Chiefs may be about to lose Dave Rennie, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden and James Lowe, but this campaign does not represent some sort of last-chance scenario for them.

If they lose their quarter-final in Cape Town this weekend, they should bounce back easily enough next year.

They won't come crashing off the rails in 2018, as their succession planning has been astute, but more importantly, it is mostly done and at the heart of it is the competition's most exciting talent.


Damian McKenzie is expected to make the shift from fullback to first-five next year, amid hopes that his particular brand of play-making wizardry can be just as effective in the No 10 shirt.

It's a shift that will potentially see him climb up the All Blacks pecking order and one that should douse some of the speculation in recent days that he's in advanced talks to join Lecister Tigers at the end of next year.

McKenzie's time is coming. It may feel that he's already arrived - it may be that he dominates the quarter-final in Cape Town this weekend, but the surface is only being scratched in regard to his potential and his career seems destined to take off in New Zealand as he reinvents himself as a first-five.

The 22-year-old has been, arguably, Super Rugby's most influential player in the last two seasons and his contribution from fullback, where he works as a second play-maker with Cruden, has given the Chiefs an attacking edge few teams can match.

In-coming Chiefs coach Colin Cooper has hinted strongly, in his role with the New Zealand Maori, that he sees McKenzie as a No 10, rather than fullback.

Cooper selected McKenzie at first-five for the Maori against the British & Irish Lions and with the Chiefs having not gone into the market to find a replacement for Cruden, the picture seems relatively clear in regard to who will be tasked with being the Chiefs' key play-maker next year.

Incumbent coach Dave Rennie has never been definitive on where he saw McKenzie's long-term future, but did suggest that he liked him most at fullback.

A number of other analysts agree with the view that McKenzie is best-suited to fullback, a position from which he has added genuine spark to the Chiefs' attack play and won two test caps.


But the All Blacks coaching team aren't among those who believe McKenzie's best position is fullback.

Head coach Steve Hansen has been clear, since early last year, that he sees McKenzie as a No 10. The youngster has been good enough to earn selection for the All Blacks at fullback, but it's not where they feel his skills are best suited.

In the international game, fullback has increasingly become a physical position, where size matters. Much of the one-on-one tackling for fullbacks is on power wings, who can be as heavy as 110kg and are typically at full flight.

Then, there are the aerial demands of the role and a lack of height can be a distinct disadvantage when there are fullbacks, such as Israel Folau, who are 1.95m.

It's not that McKenzie, at 1.78m and 81kg, is too small to play fullback at the highest level, more that his lack of size is considerably less of an issue when he plays at first-five.

But having not played regularly at first-five since he joined the Chiefs in 2015, the All Blacks can't consider him in that position.

"We have said publicly that we'd like him to play 10," Hansen said, after McKenzie was picked at first-five for the Maori clash with Lions.

"Coops [Colin Cooper] has worked in very closely with us, he understand where we think Damian's long term future is."

While the rumour mill may be spinning a story that Mckenzie is considering a move to England, that seems hugely unlikely, as he's contracted to stay in New Zealand until the end of 2018 and by switching to first-five, he could potentially open the door to regular test caps.

Lima Sopoaga is likely to be the back-up/bench option to Beauden Barrett for the remainder of this year, but that pecking order could become fluid, if McKenzie can deliver at No 10 for the Chiefs next year.