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McKenzie content with Maori No.10 role

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 15/06/2017 Angelo Risso
All Black coach Steve Hansen talks with Damian McKenzie. © Phil Walter/Getty Images/Getty Images All Black coach Steve Hansen talks with Damian McKenzie.

Damian McKenzie will face his past and future when he pulls on the Maori All Blacks' No.10 jumper against the British and Irish Lions on Saturday.

The 22-year-old grew up playing first-five in Southland and Canterbury, as well as for junior New Zealand sides, and blossomed in the role at Waikato - but has found the path to the Chiefs' No.10 jumper blocked by a bona fide Test star in Aaron Cruden.

As a result, he's mostly slotted in at fullback since his 2015 Super Rugby debut, and has played just one full game as the Chiefs' fly-half this season.

But with current Maori boss Colin Cooper set to join him in Hamilton next year, and Cruden off to Montpellier on a three-year deal, McKenzie is likely to take on the Chiefs' playmaking mantle in 2018 - as he'll do against the Lions in Rotorua.

Helping the Ngati Tuwharetoa-affiliated livewire will be plenty of familiar faces, however, including an all-Chiefs spine of Liam Messam at No.8, Tawera Kerr-Barlow at halfback, Charlie Ngatai at second-five and James Lowe at fullback.

He'll be opposed by star Irish first-five Johnny Sexton, with Englishman Owen Farrell - odds-on favourite for a Test berth - suffering from a thigh issue.

"Obviously you're more of a guide of the team rather than trying to do stuff yourself, and I guess you're more involved in the game - so defensively you might see a bit more traffic there than you usually would," McKenzie said on Thursday.

"I think the roles and skillsets of the No.10 and No.15 are quite similar, I guess it's just more involvement in the game at No.10.

"It's good to get a crack there and get into that playmaking role."

McKenzie, twice capped for the All Blacks, was an unlucky omission for the side's Test series against the Lions despite a solid campaign in Chiefs colours.

He's therefore likely to scurry back to Hamilton after Saturday's match to prepare for the Super Rugby franchise's clash with the Lions on Tuesday.

McKenzie said he was honoured to play for the Maori, and would keep plugging away for a return to the Test fold later this year - but first wanted to seize the opportunity to lead the Maori's attacking game and traditional free-flowing style.

He's been tasked with using his kicking game to nullify the Lions' line speed.

"It's still a massive privilege and great opportunity," McKenzie said.

"Now it's just about trying to better yourself and keep working on little things in your game, and if things start to pan out later in the season, that's another bonus."

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