Dave Rennie's legacy cemented by the talent he leaves to successor

Damian McKenzie runs the ball back against the Highlanders in Dunedin last year.
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Damian McKenzie runs the ball back against the Highlanders in Dunedin last year.

OPINION: Damian McKenzie is going to be fine.

At Chiefs training a fortnight ago the fruits of some hard labour in the gym could clearly be seen on the 21-year-old fullback. He will never be a giant but he no longer seems Lilliputian.

Last year he resembled a Waikato University student suddenly thrust among professional athletes.

Shaun Stevenson gives the Crusaders the slip the final of the Global 10s in Brisbane last weekend.
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Shaun Stevenson gives the Crusaders the slip the final of the Global 10s in Brisbane last weekend.

This year, with a bit of size around the shoulders and arms after a weights programme, he does not look out of place.

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Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has locked in Damian McKenzie and Shaun Stevenson to the Chiefs beyond 2017, after his ...
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has locked in Damian McKenzie and Shaun Stevenson to the Chiefs beyond 2017, after his departure to Glasgow.

Ask Dave Rennie about McKenzie's playing weight this year and he'll tell you that he's about 80kg.

Nonetheless, strength is not all about a number. "He's got a strong frame like Aaron [Cruden]," Rennie says. 

Another slender youngster in Chiefs colours announced himself to a wider audience at the Brisbane 10s last weekend.

Colin Cooper is to take over the role as coach for the Chiefs after Dave Rennie.
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Colin Cooper is to take over the role as coach for the Chiefs after Dave Rennie.

Shaun Stevenson, the rangy fullback/wing, made a mockery of his 20 years with a range of attributes that look tailor-made for the role of modern fullback.

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He doesn't have electric pace but he's fast enough. His catch and pass skills are excellent and he has a strong boot.

What's more he sees the game brilliantly. Although his most eye catching moment last weekend was the mazy run that bamboozled about 200 Bulls players, no doubt the coaches were happier with his ability to bring others into the game. That's a selfless gift many young men do not have.   

Rennie has both of these talents locked in to the Chiefs beyond 2017, after his departure to Glasgow. 

He leaves to his successor Colin Cooper a potentially brilliant 10-15 partnership around which the Chiefs can build their attacking strategy.

It is some Christmas present for Cooper to unwrap.

McKenzie was found out a couple of times as the last line of defence last year, notably when rampaging Blues wing Rieko Ioane announced himself as a player to watch with a standout performance in Hamilton.

Not that it matters much. McKenzie's future is at No.10 both at the Chiefs and the All Blacks. In fact Steve Hansen has made it known that he wants to see more of McKenzie at No.10 this year.

Rennie is his own man and Hansen might have to be patient but you can understand the All Blacks' wish.

Look at McKenzie's qualities. Electric at attacking the line. Tick. Good right-foot kicking game. Tick. Decent left foot kicking game. Tick. Solid goalkicking technique. Tick. Brave defender. Tick. Strong distributor off both hands. Tick. 

As for Stevenson it's not just his individual attributes that will serve the Chiefs well, it's his potential to complement McKenzie and give the Chiefs two ball-playing options at No.10 and No.15.

It's no coincidence that the Chiefs have looked their most dangerous in the Rennie era when they've used a No.15 who can inject themselves at five-eighth.

Of course, Rennie has not been everyone's cup of tea over the past six months.

There have been grumblings about his presentation skills under the full glare of the media. 

Certainly, as Steve Tew delivered NZ Rugby's findings into last year's stripper storm Rennie gave the appearance of a man who would be prefer to be undergoing root canal treatment at the hands of a nervous novice.

But that is to judge a rugby coach by a PR professional's scoresheet.  

As a builder of rugby teams he has been an unqualified success for the past six years.

When he goes the Chiefs will have two of the country's finest youngsters already in place, and no small debt to the man who transformed them.

 - Stuff

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