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All Blacks look to future with McKenzie

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 29/05/2016 Robert Lowe
Damian McKenzie © Phil Walter/Getty Images Damian McKenzie

Dubbed an All Black-in-waiting for much of this season, Damian McKenzie has duly got a call-up to the Test squad as the selectors keep one eye on the future.

The 21-year-old Chiefs fullback's inclusion in the 32-strong selection for the three-match series against Wales in June comes after some stellar form in Super Rugby.

In his second year in the competition, McKenzie has shown an electric attacking ability with ball in hand while also being prepared to throw his 1.75m, 80kg frame into the defensive duties.

All Blacks co-selector Grant Fox says McKenzie still has plenty to learn, but brings a natural skill set with him.

"He makes things happen," Fox said.

"When he has his hands on the ball, he's a threat, and he's very explosive for a little guy.

"He has good acceleration, he's good on his feet, he's brave. He's got courage in the air."

Fox said that, with some players, it was a case not of if they would be an All Black, but when.

"He's in here pretty early and we've got an eye to the future with him."

Originally a specialist first five-eighth, McKenzie has been operating at the back for the Chiefs, who have frontline All Black Aaron Cruden as their No.10.

He admitted it had been tough not thinking about his prospects of making the Test squad given the way his name had kept being thrown in the mix.

"But I've always said from the start that I try and take things week by week and, if the phone call was to come, it would be a massive bonus," he said.

When the call did come, it left him overwhelmed, and he was soaking up the atmosphere when he arrived in camp on Sunday.

"To be amongst the country's best players is pretty surreal," he said.

"These are guys I have looked up to for a long time. To get an opportunity possibly to play alongside them is pretty awesome."

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