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NZ Maori ring-ins produce on Test level

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 13/11/2016 Angelo Risso

Blowing out the cobwebs with the Maori All Blacks last week seems to have done Damian McKenzie and Elliot Dixon a world of good after polished Test displays in Rome.

McKenzie, 21, made his first start in the black jumper as his side strolled to a 68-10 win over the Italians, while the 27-year-old Dixon made just his second Test start.

Both fringe All Blacks played the full 80 minutes for the Maori side in Chicago last week as they crushed USA 54-7, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen looking to get the pair match-fit for Italy.

The move seems to have paid dividends, with McKenzie making two line breaks and two offloads in an energetic Rome performance and Dixon nabbing a try and assist.

McKenzie, who plies his trade for the Chiefs at Super Rugby level, admitted to a few butterflies before kick-off but was overjoyed to pull on the No.15 jumper.

"Sticking to my natural game and not trying to be too robotic, holding onto the ball and just working hard," McKenzie said.

"They always talk about playing your game and doing that well and doing it at 100 per cent."

Dixon, meanwhile, revelled in a more unrestricted role at blindside than that which he performs for the Highlanders, making five tackles and getting stuck into the breakdown.

He felt he was growing into his role within the All Blacks set-up after making his Test debut in the June series against Wales.

"For me personally, it takes a little while to get comfortable in a team, and that showed with the Highlanders," the loose forward said.

"Repetitions, lineouts, ball in hand and having fun and playing games, not worrying too much about structure and what my role is."

Hansen, for his part, was complimentary of both players' performances in the Eternal City.

Dixon had played few minutes for the All Blacks and was still learning the tools of the trade, but had made good progress against the Italians.

"He was physical and did some things nice, but there's still some parts of his game we can continue to grow," Hansen said.

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