The Super Rugby season enters its knock out stages this week and ahead of their quarter-final clash with the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday, the Chiefs are looking to forget about those who are soon to depart and focus on winning a third Super Rugby title.
Already heading for the exit door are star players Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, James Lowe, with all three set to cash in on moves to Europe.
Current coach Dave Rennie is also packing his bags as he plans for a new life in Scotland as new head coach of the Glasgow Warriors.
With so much change on the horizon for the New Zealand franchise, reports of the possible departure of current full-back and star Damian McKenzie for Premiership side Leicester Tigers will not have helped the end-of-an-era feeling that is likely swirling through the club.
McKenzie, 22, has been one of, if not the most exciting and dynamic players in the Super Rugby league since his announcement on the scene two seasons ago.
His play-making abilities and influence on the game from the back line has seen him catapulted into the international fold this past season.
Were he to make the switch to the English Premiership, any further dreams of the famous black jersey would end but this is something that incoming Chiefs boss Colin Cooper insists simply will not happen.
Contracted to the Chiefs until the end of 2018, Cooper believes that the explosive full-back will soon make the move to out-half and replace the departing Cruden.
Extremely proficient from the kicking tee, McKenzie has made the full-back position his own while Cruden has occupied the pivotal number 10 jersey. Now, with the half-back position to be filled, Cooper expects McKenzie to slot in.
This expectation is, according to the NZ Herald, mirrored by All Blacks boss Steve Hansen,
“We have said publicly that we’d like him to play 10.
“Coops [Colin Cooper] has worked in very closely with us, he understands where we think Damian’s long term future is.”
Having been selected at out-half for the Maori All Blacks against the British and Irish Lions this summer, it appears that McKenzie could well be set to compete with Highlanders’ Lima Sopoaga for the backup All Black jersey behind Beauden Barrett.
With the positional switch set to come next season for the 22-year-old, there is a whole world of new possibility awaiting. Cooper believes the versatile back will remain in New Zealand and fight for his All Blacks jersey.
Age is on his side. Leaving now would firmly close the door on any dreams of World Cup successes with New Zealand, something that would be difficult to turn away from. While he may still decide to enjoy the riches of Europe, it is expected that it won’t be just yet.
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