Both players have come through the New Zealand age-group system, with previous impressive performances for the NZ U20s and Blues’ head coach Sir John Kirwan believes it’s important to explore the wealth of young rugby talent on offer and prepare them for Super Rugby.
“This last season, I think it was the young guys who really stole the show across the New Zealand franchises and we saw the coming of age for some pretty special rugby players,” said Kirwan.
Currently playing for Southland, McKenzie (20) has had a strong start to his ITM Cup campaign and Kirwan likes what he sees.
“Marty is a young player who we’ve been watching for a while. He has stacks of talent and I believe giving him the opportunity to step up to Super Rugby level at the Blues will see him flourish.”
McKenzie is excited about his first move to Auckland to join the Blues under the new coaches and be part of their 2013 campaign.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to be coached by the new Blues coaching staff and I want to be part of the Blues in this rebuilding phase which could be the start of something pretty great.”
O’Connor (23), who has had two years in the Crusaders camp is a loose forward who Kirwan believes has shown a lot of potential and deserves time on the paddock to develop that.
“He’s a strong and mobile player, with a solid defensive game and we are keen to get our hands on him to develop his Super Rugby ability within our squad,” said Kirwan.
O’Connor is currently recovering from knee surgery sustained during a club rugby match but Kirwan said he will hit the ground running when the Blues assemble in December and will be fully involved in pre-season hit outs.
“I’ve had a couple of conversations with JK and I really liked what he had to say. This is exciting times and I am determined to make the most of this opportunity at the Blues,” said O’Connor.
Another player secured for the Blues future is Auckland tighthead prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi. The 20-year-old has an impressive rugby CV for one so young and is performing well for Auckland in this season’s ITM Cup.
“Ofa is one for the future. Having come through Auckland Rugby’s development programme, he has represented the union and the Blues franchise in age-group and development sides, and his progress at provincial level is pretty exciting,” Kirwan explained.
Tu’ungafasi has signed with the Blues for the 2014/15 seasons.