Damian McKenzie’s magic for Waikato in killing the Wellington Lions 53-28 in Mitre 10 Cup rugby in Hamilton on Saturday was a timely reminder of his amazing talent.
At 81kgm, he’s dwarfed by Jordie Barrett’s 102kg. But his fearlessness, daring and speed serve as a reminder to Jordie, brother Beauden and rising star Will Jordan, he’s a worthy All Black fullback.
With a try, five conversions and six penalty goals, McKenzie contributed an incredible 33 of Waikato’s points in their five tries to four win over 2019 premiership finalists Wellington.
It followed a fine game for North in the inter-island match against the South. And it was a vast improvement on his disappointing form for the winless Warren Gatland-coached Chiefs when he failed to make the top 10 Super Rugby Aotearoa players for clean breaks and kicked aimlessly too often.
In contrast Jordie Barrett had an excellent SR Aotearoa playing fullback for the Hurricanes, showing enterprise on attack, solidity on defence and kicking some prodigious goals of Don Clarke proportions ranging up to 58m.
However with a first-five background, McKenzie slots in as first receiver more often with his tricky footwork, slick passing and tactical kicking constantly stretching the defence when at his best.
Beauden Barrett also has all those skills and is more experienced whereas young Jordan is another flyer with all the skills required of a fullback and wing.
Wellington’s lack of discipline allowed McKenzie’s accurate boot to cane them despite scoring just one try less.
Nippy halfback Xavier Roe actually outplayed the formidable TJ Perenara despite Perenara’s draw and pass setting up tries for right wing Connor Garden-Bachop and Ardie Savea.
Ardie did the same early for former All Black brother, Julian, who saw very little ball thereafter.
A feature of Auckland’s 38-6 convincing away win against undisciplined Otago in Dunedin was the form of No 6 Akira Ioane, No 8 Hoskins Sotutu and fullback Jordan Trainor who were rated their team’s top three.
The much fitter Ioane’s workload continues to impress along with his strong carries and rugged defence.
A former All Blacks Sevens star, it looked as though he was wasting his natural talent last year. To his credit he has bounced back superbly with a new attitude, even though he has lost his No 8 berth to exciting new All Black Sotutu.
Together they add attacking thrust to a powerful Auckland pack which has welcomed mobile two-try hooker Leni Apisai from Japan.
With speedy fullback Trainor making some lovely breaks out wide where Rieko Ioane and Caleb Clarke lurk, Auckland doesn’t lack strike power.
Neither do defending champions Tasman who beat Counties Manukau 41-24 and Canterbury who accounted for North Harbour 43-29.
Despite losing the first set of the United States Open women’s tennis tournament 1-6 to Victoria Asarenka, Naomi Osaka recovered well to take the next two 6-3, 6-3.
It was a fair result with Osaka having overcome Serena Williams in the semi-final whom she also beat in the controversial 2018 final.
Novak Djokovic’s disqualification for a careless hit that accidently struck a lineswoman cost him a chance to increase his impressive array of major wins.
To his credit he was quick to show concern for the woman’s welfare and blamed himself for not controlling his temper.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author