It’s advantage Damian McKenzie in the jostle to be Beauden Barrett’s designated bench cover for the June test series against France.
That appears to be the thinking around the No 10 position heading in to the series opener at Eden Park on June 9 as the All Blacks look to settle on their top 23 to kick off the 2018 season.
The selectors have run with three No 10s in their 33-man squad for the French, with Barrett, McKenzie and uncapped Crusaders pivot Richie Mo’unga the options.
Barrett, of course, is under no threat for his starting position as the best rugby player on the planet, though on the surface there is little between McKenzie and Mo’unga as matchday backup, with both in excellent form for their franchises, and offering different enough styles to present as viable options.
Both are young footballers – McKenzie is 23 and Mo’unga 24 – and both have work still to do in their development as test-level first five-eighths. But there are two aspects that give McKenzie the inside running for now.
The first is his experience. The Chiefs pivot is into his third year as an All Black and has tucked away 12 tests in that time, 10 of them coming last year when he emerged as the top choice at fullback with both Ben Smith and Jordie Barrett removed from the picture.
That counts for plenty at the highest level of the game.
Then there’s his versatility. McKenzie is a proven fullback with back-three level gas to boot. He covers 10, 15 and, at a pinch, wing on the bench; while Mo’unga is principally a first five.