By The Spotter
Damian McKenzie. The bobby calf on speed. He’s here, there and everywhere. Last year it was Nehe Milner-Skudder, but in 2016 the Chiefs ‘zip-zap’ fullback is the new ‘it’ guy of New Zealand Rugby.
Look no further than he for the perfect embodiment of that old adage, size doesn’t matter. We know the man is not much more than 80 kilograms and fearless- anyone prepared to risk taking down Nemani Nadolo head on deserves the Rugby equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
What makes McKenzie so lethal is his acceleration. It’s so good it’s scary. But then Rugby has been littered with smaller players throughout its history who were major attacking forces. Naturally they had to be fearless to compete at the highest level. That requisite is practically a given for any player though; big, medium or small. The common denominator that has allowed a great number of the little guys to make it to the highest echelons however, has been the one thing that we are always reminded cannot be coached in anyone-speed.
The brilliant French team that played a two-test series here in 1979 and had an historic victory over the All Blacks on Eden Park on Bastille Day, is a case in point. The backs squad of that team was positively tiny; out of the twelve chosen, five stood at less than 1.71 metres tall (under 5 feet 7 and a half inches), while six also weighed less than 76 kilograms. By rights their much bigger New Zealand opposites should have physically crushed them, as the Tricolores received much of their set-piece ball on the back foot as a result of the sheer dominance of the All Black scrum, particularly in the first test.
That scenario did not even remotely eventuate. in the first encounter the All Black forwards made the French scrum look like it was straight out of a Saturday social grade, yet for all the front foot ball available to the New Zealand backline, by far the best try of the match emanated from a pacy, elusive burst down the left wing from not the French winger, but their tiny halfback Lafarge, who even the New Zealand outside backs couldn’t catch initially. Swift acceleration was the key to a great score 75 metres further downfield.
The second test is etched in lore as one of the great ones. The second, third and fourth of the four French tries scored in a twenty minute burst either side of halftime were thrilling affairs, with All Black tacklers left strewn in the wake, left either clutching at thin air or jersey threads. The speed of their little inside backs, namely Alain Caussade and Didier Codornious, made those scores possible.
In older times and newer, we sometimes hear that old chestnut about the size of the heart inside the beast, and that is certainly something not be underestimated. So too though is fleetness of foot, and McKenzie has that and the former.
As sure as cowbells are rung at a Shield defence in Hamilton, DMK is soon destined for All Blackdom. Bet the farm on it.