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McKenzie ranked 50th in world but on the rise

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    06 Jan 2018     Getty Images

The fullback, who will have the chance to play his preferred position of first five-eighths when the Chiefs begin their 2018 Investec Super Rugby campaign, offered value for money when he was playing because of his attacking play.

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"Defences have no systems for dealing with non-standard attacks…and McKenzie loves to roll the dice. He doesn't always throw a six but very few of his gambles backfire," the magazine said.

McKenzie's family background in the game was well known in New Zealand but what was not so well known was the fact he had potential in tennis.

He shared a national doubles title when he was 12.

"It was a sport I really liked but it came to a point where I had to choose which one to play and rugby was the obvious option," he said.

McKenzie had his rugby heroes but it was tennis supremo Roger Federer who helped fashion McKenzie's attitude to sport.

"I guess because of his professionalism towards the sport and he's such a humble person as well. The characteristics he has are what you need to be a successful sportsperson," he told Rugby World.

It was the 2014 Under-20 Rugby World Cup played in New Zealand that saw McKenzie first required to try the fullback position when he was third in the queue behind Richie Mo'unga and Simon Hickey for the first five-eighths' job. Coach Chris Boyd gave him the opportunity to play, but at fullback.

"I was happy to try it out. I guess the same skill-sets are required for both positions. With 10 you're more of a driver of the team and people look to you to call the shots. At 15 you have a bit more space and time, more freedom to run around and do what you want. It's something I really enjoyed," he said.



While criticised when some of his efforts didn't come off, McKenzie said all he wanted to do was play his game and try not to be a robot by playing what was in front of him and backing his instincts.

"The reason we play rugby is because we love running out there and chucking the ball around. I guess you have to get the balance right, be smart about the option you take. But you've got to play with freedom and trust the decisions you make," he said.

At the same time he is aware that 2018 offers new challenges with the expected returns to the All Blacks of Ben Smith and Jordie Barrett, who ranked ahead of him at fullback before he was given his chance.

"I've been quite lucky with the opportunity I've been given. It's about making the most of that opportunity, putting my best foot forward, just trying to play my game. I've been lucky to get a few starts and it's good to have that momentum going into games," he said.

One of the games that had left an impression on him in 2017 was the Test against South Africa at Newlands.

"The South Africa match at Newlands is one of the more satisfying things I've been a part of. It's an awesome place and the fans create an amazing atmosphere. It's a hostile place and to win by one point was pretty special," he said.

What he didn't say was the try he scored, after an initial thrust by David Havili, played a key role in achieving that win and demonstrated why Rugby World magazine described him as 'the most exciting rugby player on our planet'.