Rugby – Chiefs pondering McKenzie shift to try to arrest slump

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Autumn Internationals - England v New Zealand - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - November 10, 2018 New Zealand's Damian McKenzie scores their first try Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers/File Photo

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Waikato Chiefs are willing to try anything to repair their floundering season and could consider shifting Damian McKenzie back to fullback for their Super Rugby clash with the Wellington Hurricanes on Friday.

The Chiefs have been a shadow of the side that have made the playoffs every year since 2012 with 50-point defeats to the ACT Brumbies and Canterbury Crusaders and a loss to the normally lowly Sunwolves that have seen them slump to a 0-4 record.

McKenzie, who has played most of his Super Rugby and All Blacks career at fullback, has played in his preferred flyhalf position in the last three matches.

He has, however, been unable to stamp any authority on the game and Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said they might consider shifting him to the number 15 jersey this week.

“There’s always that thought, I’ve said before we’ll do what’s best for the team,” Cooper told reporters in Hamilton on Monday. “We know what he can bring.”

McKenzie’s play at fullback has been electric in the past, but the 23-year-old, who had made no secret he wanted to play flyhalf after Aaron Cruden left for a contract in France following the 2017 Super Rugby season, has failed to really show he can control a game in the number 10 jersey.

He struggled against the British and Irish Lions for the Maori All Blacks in 2017 but still replaced Cruden in the position for the Chiefs last year.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who has previously said he sees McKenzie’s future as a flyhalf, gave him a chance to start in the position against France last June, but then played him at fullback for his other nine test appearances in 2018.

McKenzie’s struggles in the position have continued this year and the Chiefs’ inexperienced backline have lacked penetration and organisation.

Cooper said if he does move McKenzie to fullback then he has the opportunity to give former Melbourne Rebels pivot Jack Debreczeni a chance after he missed the first three games with an abdominal injury.

“He showed he’s got experience, he’s certainly professional, and he’s got a lot of leadership qualities at 10,” Cooper said of Debreczeni, who played the final 30 minutes against the Crusaders.

“So has Marty McKenzie, so has Beaver (Stephen Donald).

“So we’ve got some choices there, along with Damian.”

The Chiefs’ season does not get any easier after their clash with the Hurricanes in Hamilton.

They will make a trip to Pretoria to face the South African conference-leading Bulls on March 23 before meeting the Jaguares in Buenos Aires the following week.

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