‘The door’s open so he’s got to go kick it down’


Damian McKenzie is the undeniable favourite to inherit the keys to the All Blacks‘ engine in 2024, but that doesn’t make it a sure thing.

In the first instance, the 28-year-old has a Super Rugby campaign to tend to, and his Chiefs coach is looking to capitalise on the challenge in front of the star first five-eighth.

Clayton McMillan issued McKenzie a challenge to not just let the All Blacks’ No 10 jersey come to him, but to grab it with both hands.

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“The door’s open so he’s got to go kick it down,” McMillan told 1News.

Having forced his way into the All Blacks’ match day 23 at the business end of the Rugby World Cup last year – despite the presence of two other playmakers in Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett – McKenzie’s form has already proven too good to ignore at the international level.

But the black 10 jersey demands excellence. Week in, week out.

If McKenzie wants his name to be remembered next to those like Dan Carter or Andrew Mehrtens, he’s got to live up to the pressure of being the guy on the biggest stage.

“As All Blacks we’ve got to set an example in our Super Rugby teams and play like All Blacks,” McKenzie added.

Earlier in January, the flyhallf was candid about his ambitions for the year.

“You’ve got to embrace it,” McKenzie said of the challenge of selection, when queried by media at the All Blacks’ first camp of the year on January 9. “There’s obviously opportunity there this year. For me, I’ve always been a person that takes it week by week but you’ve got to take care of your performance, you’ve got to prepare well.

“It’s clear and obvious there’s an opportunity there in the first five position and that’s the position I want to be playing and that’s where I want to be, being able to lead this team.

“I know there’s a lot of work to be done throughout the year before that first team gets named, so I’m really excited for that opportunity, can’t wait to rip in with the Chiefs and then hopefully this team later in the year.”

With the Chiefs’ familiar co-captains in Brad Weber and Sam Cane both overseas for the 2024 Super Rugby season, there could well be room for more leadership responsibility within the environment for McKenzie.

“I think it’s really important how we model our leadership group as a collective so people don’t have to take on too much responsibility,” McMillan said.

“There’s some new voices and we haven’t given much direction, seeing who puts their hand up in the leadership space.”





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