Rugby World Cup: All Blacks' record defeat to South Africa strengthens case for Damian McKenzie selection

New Zealand's record defeat to South Africa in their final World Cup warm-up hitout may have pushed the selection case for livewire utility Damian McKenzie on the bench.

With the tournament opener against France just two weeks away, the All Blacks fielded a near-full strength line-up against the Springboks, with a chance to nail down the world No.1 ranking with a comfortable win.

Instead, they were handed their heads by the world champions, who led 21-0 just after halftime, before bringing on their feared 'Bomb Squad' - a mass influx of seven fresh forwards off the bench against the undermanned NZ pack, with lock Scott Barrett sent off.

Damian McKenzie during national anthems.
Damian McKenzie during national anthems. Photo credit: Photosport

For the first time, All Blacks coach Ian Foster went with a six-two forwards split among his reserves, but lacked an x-factor player capable of turning the match from broken play, once his team fell behind.

McKenzie fits that bill.

"He's the sort of guy we need on the field, because we needed to make something change," Newshub's Paddy Gower told Sky Sport's Breakdown. "We needed to make a difference out there... broken play, something different.

"Yes, he looked like he got a little monstered early on against Australia, but it seemed unusual to me that we don't have a player like him there.

"I don't particularly think the six-two split suits the All Blacks as much as it does the South Africans. We've got that ability to have McKenzie on the bench and we should have had him there."

All Blacks centurion Mils Muliaina agrees.

"When you're not getting your set-piece and you're chasing the game, this is what McKenzie will bring," he said. "That's the calibre he is with that erratic sort of stuff - you're not quite sure, you're not going into structure, you're chasing the game...

"We needed someone to come off the bench to change that sort of aspect, because we weren't winning any of our set-piece."

McKenzie missed the last World Cup, when he suffered a torn ACL in his knee, but starred for the Chiefs during the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific, mainly at first-five.

He started in the No.10 jersey against Argentina during the Rugby Championship, but put in a mixed performance against Australia in the Bledisloe Cup rematch at Dunedin.

"I'm a Damian McKenzie fan," insisted All Blacks legend Sir John Kirwan. "The reason I'm not too worried about that loss the other night is you take a lot of learnings out of it and one of those was what do we need to do with the bench?

"What do you do, if the game's not going your way? I like what Damian McKenzie can bring, because I'm always talking about how he plays more like [NZ Warriors star] Shaun Johnson than anyone else.

Cam Roigard in action for the All Blacks.
Cam Roigard in action for the All Blacks. Photo credit: Getty Images

"He's running across the field, he's got guys running off him and I think that's the thing you need to talk about. What are we trying to achieve, if we meet another South Africa - and we could do that in the quarter-finals?

"What are we trying to achieve, if they're on top of their game?"

One player to push his case with his performance against the Springboks was halfback Cam Roigard, who came off the bench midway through the second half, scored the All Blacks' only try and made another promising break moments later to test the opposition defence.

"He brings something a little bit different to the other halfbacks," said Muliaina. "He's been really vital to this All Blacks team, coming off the bench."

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