There were mistakes of course but with two tries and a flawless goalkicking performance, Damian McKenzie would have done enough to remain the All Blacks' back-up first-five in the face of Richie Mo'unga's challenge.

Such is his appetite for risk, McKenzie is always going to make the occasional error and several were on display against France in Dunedin, most notably two intercept passes (for which he has form), a clearance which went too far, and a kick-off to start the second half which didn't go far enough.

But it's that gambling instinct which makes him the player he is; high risk, high reward, and not surprisingly coach Steve Hansen is prepared to keep backing the 23-year-old after an inconsistent display a week before at Westpac Stadium in Beauden Barrett's absence.

"Everyone was pretty harsh on him in Wellington but you can't play if the tight five don't do the job," Hansen said. "They did the job this week and all of a sudden you get a better performance. Was it complete? No, but he's still young. It wouldn't have mattered if Richie [Mo'unga] had started – he would have made mistakes too because that's the way it is when you're a young player.


"He's got to continue working on his kicking game. The decision to kick when it rolled over the deadball line was a great decision – there was plenty of space. If it had bounced left everyone would have been clapping.

Damian McKenzie lines up a conversion. Photo / Photosport
Damian McKenzie lines up a conversion. Photo / Photosport

"He started to see things. The execution wasn't always right. He's got to tidy up a few loose passes but the rest of his game was outstanding. His running game is unbelievable. You give him half a yard and he's gone. He's versatile, he can play fullback, we know that, so it gives us wriggle room on the bench."

Asked if making mistakes would always be part of McKenzie's portfolio given the type of player he is, Hansen said: "He's going to try 100 things isn't he? He's not one of those guys who is going to try only two or three, so it's more likely he's going to make the odd mistake. You just want to eliminate the ones that are really avoidable and he's starting to understand that.

"It's early in his career and I think as he goes along he'll get better and better. No one plays the perfect game – there's no such thing.

"It was a lot better from last week," McKenzie said afterwards. "[I was] a bit more controlled and I guess not panicking at times, just doing the obvious. A couple of bounces of the ball didn't quite go my way and I guess it was just about getting over that stuff and keep playing at the right ends of the field."

While McKenzie's report card was positive, it wasn't such good news for flanker Ardie Savea and midfielder Sonny Bill Williams. Savea will be out for a month with a high ankle sprain after leaving the pitch in the first quarter and Williams, in great form on his return from knee surgery, is out for up to three weeks with an AC joint shoulder injury.

Hansen confirmed skipper Kieran Read would play for Counties in their warm-up match against Tasman in Manurewa on Wednesday afternoon. The plan was for Read, recovering from back surgery, to play 40 minutes and half a match for the Crusaders the following week.

The current Super Rugby leaders have a bye next weekend and host the Highlanders a week on Friday.