WELLINGTON, June 10 (Reuters) - Two-cap utility back Damian McKenzie is still very much in New Zealand’s future plans despite not making the squad for the British and Irish Lions test series, according to assistant coach Ian Foster.
The Waikato Chiefs fullback was left out of the squad on Thursday, an omission that some commentators saw as compelling evidence of the depth of talent available to the All Blacks, with Jordie Barrett instead chosen to fill the utility role.
”Damian was definitely unlucky,“ Foster told Fairfax Media. ”He has played really well, and I guess there will be a bit of debate about Damian v Jordie.
“Damian is an outstanding player. He probably has got a slightly higher error-rate in some aspects but he does some brilliant things and I know he’ll be back.”
McKenzie would prefer to play flyhalf but has had Aaron Cruden in his way at the Chiefs and has principally been slotted into the side at fullback.
All Black Cruden is off to Montpellier later this year, however, which should open the door for the 22-year-old to play more often in his preferred role.
”We’re really interested in seeing him spend a bit of time at 10,“ added Foster. ”I would imagine things do change for him at the Chiefs without Aaron there.
“But until we’ve had sufficient time to see him there it’s hard to go into the test arena with someone at 10 who hasn’t really played a lot there.”
McKenzie was named in the Maori All Blacks side to face the Lions in Rotorua on June 17.
He could also come back into contention for Steve Hansen’s squad if Cruden does not recover from a knee injury he sustained in Super Rugby on Friday.
All Blacks selector Grant Fox, however, poured cold water on the idea of McKenzie filling the ‘super sub’ role Beauden Barrett occupied for the first four years of his international career, covering flyhalf and fullback.
”We see a great skill set at 10 (for McKenzie),“ Fox said. ”But it’s hard to pick him when he’s not playing there.
“We need a lot more evidence. It would be a tough ask for him to do a 10/15 bench role at test level now without some time in the saddle at 10.” (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)