All Black McKenzie eyes run at fly-half in Japan

Tokyo (AFP) – New Zealand's Damian McKenzie said Tuesday he wants to play fly-half at Japanese side Suntory Sungoliath Tokyo, and is "confident" of making the All Blacks' 2023 Rugby World Cup squad.


The 26-year-old McKenzie, who has played at both fly-half and full-back in recent years, has arrived in Japan to replace fellow All Black Beauden Barrett, who had a six-month sabbatical with Sungoliath last season.

Barrett is now sharing the All Blacks' number 10 jersey with Richie Mo'unga after successfully re-establishing himself at fly-half with Suntory last year.

Now McKenzie wants to stake his claim for the shirt as he prepares for the start of the Japanese season early next month, although he says he is equally happy to turn out at full-back.

"I'd love to play stand-off (fly-half) -- I think that's where I can be best utilised in this competition," McKenzie told reporters.

"But I'm happy to play at full-back or wherever the team needs me. At Suntory Sungoliath we have a team-first mindset, but I'd love to play stand-off."

McKenzie has had to be content with a place on the All Blacks' bench for much of this year, with Beauden Barrett or Mo'unga at 10 and Jordie Barrett taking the number 15 jersey.

McKenzie knows he must work hard to force his way into the reckoning for the 2023 World Cup, but he believes his move to Japan can give him an edge.

"I'm very determined to get back into that squad and obviously there's a lot of competition back home in the positions I'm in," said McKenzie, who missed the 2019 World Cup through injury.

"I'm confident in myself. I'm coming over here to embrace Japanese rugby and embrace the Japanese culture, but to grow my game as well. I think I can do that over here and then take that back home."

McKenzie will be lining up alongside Australia internationals Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon at Suntory.

The new season kicks off on January 7.