Rugby World Cup: Damian McKenzie, Cam Roigard combination a glimpse into All Blacks' bright future

In many ways, the 2023 Rugby World Cup represents the end of an era for the All Blacks. But if the efforts of Cam Roigard and Damian McKenzie are any gauge, the next one can be just as bright.

Come the final whistle - whenever that may be for the All Blacks at this World Cup - significant change will take shape in the national game.

Ian Foster's time with the national team, dating back to assisting Sir Steve Hansen in 2012, will end, to be replaced by Scott Robertson.

Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown celebrate.
Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown celebrate. Photo credit: Getty Images

Meanwhile, a core of senior players will also depart for offshore contracts to rule out selection in 2024, with Sam Whitelock, Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick and Aaron Smith among those saying goodbye.  

Smith's exit leaves the All Blacks without a recognised starting halfback from next year, while stocks in the No.10 jersey are just as thin with the pair of Barrett and Richie Mo'unga headed to Japan.

But on Saturday, as the All Blacks ran away as 71-3 victors over Namibia, the first taste of what could be a pivotal partnership began to blossom.

In an electrifying display, admittedly against second-tier opponents, the pair of Roigard and McKenzie, starting together for the first time left Namibia with no answers. 

In his first test start, Roigard was rightfully named man of the match. In just over an hour, the 22-year-old scored twice and assisted three more in his first start as an All Black.

Meanwhile, continuing as a test match No.10 after years of switching from fullback, McKenzie gave another reminder of his undeniable abilities - even against the weaker opposition Namibia provided.

The 28-year-old scored twice and kicked eight goals from 11 attempts, even keeping the tee once Richie Mo'unga entered the fray.

"He's a wizard," said McKenzie of Roigard. "He's just playing off the back of a great year he's had with the Hurricanes.

Cam Roigard against Namibia.
Cam Roigard against Namibia. Photo credit: Photosport

"It's the first time we've had a proper game together. Chatting throughout the week I said - and a lot of the other boys said - back yourself, just play your game.

"He surely showed that tonight. I'm proud of the effort he made and I'm sure that he'll get another effort at some stage."

For a player who started as New Zealand's third choice halfback behind Smith and Finlay Christie, Roigard's efforts will undoubtedly be a sight for the All Blacks' future coaches, knowing they have an option to build their team around.

And for a player whose still finding his feet at test level, it's frightening to think what Roigard will be capable of once he gets familiar with his new surroundings.

But if Saturday is anything to go by - even with the challenge of Christie in France, as well as the likes of Folau Fakatava and Cortez Ratima coming through - Roigard's natural game and budding combination with McKenzie will only continue to develop.

"[It was] very important," said Roigard. "The feedback I got leading into this was don't overthink it and to trust my instincts, which gave me a lot of confidence that I can play my natural game.

"I know that with the attacking style that D-Mac [McKenzie] likes to play as well, it suits my style.

"Being able to play together and have a similar style was great."  

The All Blacks can now enjoy a week's rest, before returning to action against Italy in Lyon on September 30.