Ollie Ritchie: Golden opportunity awaits Damian McKenzie in All Blacks starting line-up against Namibia

OPINION: Spots in coach Ian Foster’s first-choice All Blacks team appear few and far between. 

Foster seems to have found and settled on his top starting team, but that doesn't mean there's not room for a shake-up and with Damian McKenzie handed a third start at first-five for this weekend’s second pool clash against Namibia, he may just be able to force his way in.

New Zealand need a point of difference to their attack, someone to spark them in the last 20-30 minutes, whether leading or trailing.

McKenzie offers that. More often than not, he runs laterally, before he goes forward and that's likely to open up the Namibia defence early on, but it's when the defence gets tired late in the games that he can really exploit the opposition. 

Damian McKenzie in action for the All Blacks.
Damian McKenzie in action for the All Blacks. Photo credit: Photosport

The All Blacks badly needed that against France. Their bench did little to offer the impact they needed when they were trailing with 20 minutes to go at Paris.

McKenzie was one of the Chief's best in Super Rugby Pacific this year, relishing consistent minutes at first-five and running the attack with a level of maturity to his game perhaps lacking over the last few years.

He hasn't quite translated that to the international game this year, but he has the skillset and mindset to do it - maybe he just needs the opportunity. All his appearances for the All Blacks this year have come in the No.10 jersey, but that jersey belongs to Richie Mo'unga and rightfully so. 

So how does Foster get the best out of one of the most potent attacking threats the All Blacks produce in their squad? Closing out games could be the key to unlocking McKenzie at test level. 

Getting the balance of their bench right would go a long way to aiding All Blacks efforts to go deep in this World Cup.

When the squad is fully fit, the make-up of the All Blacks bench in Foster's first choice 23 could look like this: 16- Samisoni Taukei'aho, 17-Tamaiti Williams, 18- Fletcher Newell, 19-Brodie Retallick, 20-Ethan Blackadder, 21-Cam Roigard, 22-Anton Lienert-Brown, 23-Damian McKenzie.

That's a bench spread with players who can offer genuine impact in the second half of games. 

If Damian McKenzie can fire against Namibia and return to his attacking best, he may leave Foster with little choice, but to promote him for the All Blacks first choice 23.  

Ollie Ritchie is Newshub's rugby reporter at the World Cup. Join Newshub at 7am Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v Namibia pool clash