First-five or fullback? Damian McKenzie reveals his intentions

Damian McKenzie wants to be in a position where he’s helping control games.

Scott Powick /

Damian McKenzie wants to be in a position where he’s helping control games.

Versatile All Black Damian McKenzie feels it’s time to concentrate on first-five as he takes the next step in his career.

Adept at fullback or No 10, McKenzie is looking to be a playmaker at the Tokyo Sungoliath as he joins the blossoming and lucrative Japanese club scene on a short-term deal.

“I’ve sort of mixed and matched a little bit,” McKenzie told the latest episode of James Marshall’s What a Lad podcast. “15, I enjoy the freedom of just doing your own thing, which is fun.

“But I do really enjoy 10 as well because you’re obviously in a bit more control and a bit more in the driver’s seat than you would be at 15. You get more touches on the ball.

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“I’d say, moving forward, 10 is the position I want to try and focus on.”

There are roadblocks in both positions on the test scene with Jordie Barrett having taken a hold on the All Blacks No 15 jersey, while Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga have been sharing the No 10 duties, largely leaving McKenzie to make an impact off the bench over the back half of 2021.

McKenzie, who will return to New Zealand in May though won’t be instantly eligible for the All Blacks unless there are major injuries, concedes he has a big job in front of him.

Damian McKenzie will follow Beauden Barrett’s lead by playing at No 10 for the Tokyo Sungoliath.

Dan Peled /

Damian McKenzie will follow Beauden Barrett’s lead by playing at No 10 for the Tokyo Sungoliath.

“There’s plenty of good 10s around … two blokes, Beaudy and Richie, they’re top at the moment. They’re good to learn from but tough to get past at the moment,” he told the What A Lad podcast.

“Obviously I’m going to have to play some good rugby over here first to be considered (for the All Blacks).”

Ironically, McKenzie is filling the boots of Beauden Barrett in Japan after Barrett played there on a sabbatical this year, helping the Sungoliath to a runner-up finish. He sounded out Barrett about the scene as he contemplated his future.

“There were a couple of other clubs that I looked at. Obviously Beaudy had been at Suntory, so I had a talk to him about it. I thought it was a good chance to come over.

“I’d be lying to say the money wasn’t good. It was, so it’s an opportunity to benefit in that way, but also just to try something fresh.

“Obviously I’ve been playing Super [Rugby] for a while now, so [I was looking for] something maybe less physical. It’s here now, so looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun.”

McKenzie feels he will be comfortable in the Japanese environment and suited to the Sungoliath’s approach.

“They play a bit of an attacking brand and everyone’s probably a bit more my size over here, so that’s going to help,” he said.

“I think, for me, it’s a game style that suits the way I play, so I’m looking forward to getting out and just trying to play that attacking rugby and just try and add my spice to the team with what I can do.

“It’s hard boots to fill, knowing Beaudy’s been here, but it’s going to be fun. I’ve got some good guys around me to play with, so hopefully I leave a good stake in the ground and play some good rugby.”

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