Gore lad McKenzie shines on world stage
Eastern Southland lad Damian McKenzie is not the biggest player on the park, but that is what makes him so deceptive on attack.
The 19-year-old dropped from his usual first five-eighth spot to fullback in the Junior All Blacks' 48-12 Junior Rugby World Championship win over Samoa yesterday.
At just 78 kilograms and 1.77 metres tall, McKenzie was a menace to the Samoan defence.
McKenzie, who was from Gore but is now contracted to Waikato, was brave under the high ball, threatened the line and his handy kicking game was used with purpose.
He was everywhere he needed to be on attack, helping to set up Jackson Garden-Bachop's second try and Tevita Li again in the 72nd minute.
"[The body's] a little bit sore, but with our quick turnarounds it's all about our recovery in the next couple of days," McKenzie said.
"It was physical, which we always knew was going to happen against the Island teams. It would be up there with one of the more physical games and was fast-flowing at the start of the game."
Originally from Gore, McKenzie moved to Christ's College in Christchurch, where he captained the first XV.
The Chiefs development player is now studying for his bachelor of communications degree at Waikato University.
Although he is unsure of where the future lies outside of rugby, there is always the family dairy farm in the deep south to return to.
"I grew up on a farm; it's always good to get home to," he said. "My dad always gets me out doing the odd little job."
Damian is the younger brother of Marty McKenzie, who has also represented New Zealand at under-20 level.
Marty has played for the Stags, and the Blues at Super Rugby level and is now contracted with the Taranaki Rugby Union.
New Zealand coach Chris Boyd was pleased with his young utility, who would have raised eyebrows in the South African camp for their looming Friday night match at QBE Stadium in Albany.
"He's a quality 10 and, with our riches at 10, as we've done in the past, we've used the best players on the field and found a position on the field for them," Boyd said.
"So we're happy with his performance."
New Zealand's next game is against South Africa on Friday.
The Southland Times