Well-known New Zealand journalist Gregor Paul has outlined why highly-rated Chiefs full-back-cum-fly-half Damian McKenzie will not be joining the Leicester Tigers.
The playmaker’s future has been a hot topic in the last week after a story broke that the 22-year-old was in talks with English heavyweights Leicester Tigers about a move to Welford Road.
But following comments made by Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie suggesting that McKenzie would be staying in Hamilton because he would get the chance to play at 10 next season with incumbent Aaron Cruden moving to France, it appeared that the rumours were false.
But a report in The Rugby Paper a couple of days ago claiming McKenzie was now in advanced talks with the Tigers revived the rumours.
But Paul, writing in the New Zealand Herald, has dismissed the rumours. Lauding the Invercargill-born star, who is contracted to the Chiefs until next year, he believes that McKenzie will become a global superstar and a part of the All Blacks starting XV.
To the Auckland-based journalist, leaving New Zealand for the Aviva Premiership would mean that the game-breaking star would not be able to fulfill either of the above. So because of this, Paul thinks one of New Zealand rugby’s biggest talents will be staying put.
“At just 22 and already with three Super Rugby campaigns behind him, he is destined to become a global superstar. He is destined to become a regular and high impact All Black.
“But he won’t become a global superstar and can’t be a All Black if he shifts to Leicester as reports are suggesting.”
Since making his Super Rugby debut in 2015, the versatile McKenzie has developed into one of the best players in the tournament, dazzling fans with his pace, footwork and incisive running. Possessing real X-factor, he is also a very good place kicker.
An outstanding individual campaign last year, saw him finish as the Chiefs’ top try-scorer and the overall second highest try-scorer in Super Rugby with ten tries, behind Australia and Waratahs star Israel Folau.
The versatile youngster also finished as the second-highest points scorer as well, amassing 199 points, with only All Blacks teammate Beauden Barrett pipping him to top spot.
An ever-present in the Chiefs lineup this season, the diminutive star has been in excellent form, racking up 120 points with the boot and touching down six times. A constant threat to opposition defences, McKenzie has been a key factor in the Chiefs’ impressive campaign this year.
Twelve wins, a draw and only one defeat, saw the Chiefs finish in third place of the New Zealand conference, sealing an away quarter-final tie with the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday.
Originally left out of the All Blacks squad for the Lions series, he was drafted into the team after Ben Smith suffered a concussion during the first Test, which ruled the full-back out of the rest of the series.
Despite not seeing any game time in the series, he did get the chance to play against Britain and Ireland’s finest when he turned out at 10 for the New Zealand Maori in their 32-10 loss to the Lions in Rotorua.
After making his debut off the bench against Argentina last October, he made his first start for his country in their 68-10 demolition of Italy the following month.
It is rare for exciting talents to leave New Zealand before establishing themselves at Test level. The lure of pulling on the silver fern usually keeps them on home soil until they reach the twilight of their careers.
Only Toulon fly-half-cum-inside centre Luke Allister and Wasps utility back Charles Piutau, who left New Zealand at 24 and 25 respectively, have done so in recent memory.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is a fan of his and has spoken of how he and his fellow All Black coaches see his future being at 10 rather than 15.
With only two caps under his belt, the likelihood of playing week in, week out for the Chiefs at 10, a good chance of being in the All Blacks set-up for a long time and the carrot of a World Cup in only two years time, Paul’s argument makes sense.
It really would be a strange move for McKenzie.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena