Damian McKenzie: Departures of Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett swayed playmaker’s decision to re-sign
Chiefs fly-half Damian McKenzie concedes that the departures of two key cogs in the All Blacks machine made his decision to sign a new contract much easier.
Richie Mo’unga, who is the current first choice pivot for New Zealand, has likely ended his international career by agreeing a three-year deal in Japan after the Rugby World Cup.
Beauden Barrett will also play in the Asian country in 2024 but his future is less certain with the 31-year-old mulling over a potential return in 2025.
Two-year deal for McKenzie
McKenzie himself has played in Japan recently, taking up a sabbatical to ply his trade with Tokyo Sungoliath in 2022.
He returned this season, starring in the Chiefs’ outstanding start to the Super Rugby Pacific season which has seen them claim nine successive victories.
The 28-year-old’s current contract was due to expire following the 2023 global tournament, but the playmaker allayed concerns that he would follow Mo’unga and Barrett in departing New Zealand by signing an extension with the governing body.
“Obviously it’s a little bit more enticing when there’s more opportunity there with players leaving,” McKenzie told reporters.
“Richie and Baz have set the benchmark there for years, so it’s been great learning off them, and it’d be great to be able to step into that role.
“You can’t forget Stevie [Perofeta] as well… I’ve got to earn my way back into an All Blacks spot, and hopefully I can do that this year.”
Despite McKenzie’s delight at staying in New Zealand and with the Chiefs, the fly-half has not ruled out returning to Japan in the future.
“I always back myself to play good rugby and hopefully get back into the All Blacks team, but it might have been a different decision if those boys were around, I’m not sure,” he said.
“It ended up being an easy decision to stay here, but it also at times was tough, because I did really enjoy it over there. So [I’m] not closing the door for when I’m a bit older to head back over there.”
Working with Scott Robertson
The 28-year-old continued his fine form by playing a starring role in the Chiefs’ 34-24 triumph over Crusaders.
He will have impressed future All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson, who has led the Christchurch outfit to an unprecedented level of success.
“I congratulated him with his new role… he’s a great bloke, and I said it’d be cool to work alongside him,” McKenzie said.
The fly-half could have chosen another franchise to play for when he negotiated his NZR deal, but McKenzie had no doubts about staying in Waikato.
“No, this has been home away from home for a while now, so this is the club I love, and I owe a lot to this club and the region,” he added.
“A Super Rugby title. That’s the ultimate goal.”
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The article Damian McKenzie: Departures of Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett swayed playmaker’s decision to re-sign appeared first on Planetrugby.com.