Rugby Championship: Don't forget Damian McKenzie - Grant Fox

Don't forget about Damian McKenzie - that's the assertion of All Blacks selector Grant Fox, as the debate around the country's number one first-five rages on.

The credentials of Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga have been widely discussed by New Zealand rugby scribes the last week, as the competition between the two hit overdrive, following the announcement of the All Blacks Rugby Championship side.

Mo'unga was arguably the best-performing player in Super Rugby, while Barrett has been a constant in the national side for two years, winning the world's best player award in 2016 and 2017.

Grant Fox.
Grant Fox. Photo credit: Photosport.

But Fox believes McKenzie deserves a spot right in the centre of the discussion.

Speaking to RadioLIVE, the former All Blacks number 10 said that history in the black jersey has as much weighting as Super Rugby form.

"We should be bringing Damian [McKenzie] into the conversation as well," Fox told Andrew Gourdie and Jim Kayes. "Everyone is forgetting about Damian.

"The form we look at is not just from Super Rugby, but also form in an All Blacks jersey and the last time Damian played in an All Black jersey was in Dunedin against France, and he played pretty well.

"I tend to think what happens sometimes is fans tend to look at what's happening right now and what's just happened is Super Rugby. 

"There is no doubt that at the back end of the season, Richie [Mo'unga] was the standout 10 in the country, so based on that, he deserves to be in the conversation.

"We look at All Black form as well... All Black form counts for experience.

"We have to pick a matchday 23, and we have to get things balanced and do what's right to ensure the team is successful. We can't pick 15 specialists on the bench."

Rugby Championship: Don't forget Damian McKenzie - Grant Fox
Photo credit: Newshub.

Fox agrees with the suggestion that Mo'unga needs a shot to run the cutter at some point during the Rugby Championship.

When that might be was unclear, although Fox admitted if the All Blacks travel well early in the competition, an opportunity for the Crusaders pivot will pop up.

"It's a worthy debate, because Richie has played so well," Fox told Sunday Sport.

"Beauden is the established 10, who has done nothing wrong in an All Blacks jersey, and we have done pretty well in the last little while, with him steering the ship around.

"Richie will get his opportunity - the only way for him to get the experience that Beauden has is to be given a run at some stage.

"It'll depend on how we are travelling in the Rugby Championship and, of course, injuries could come into play.

"The competition internally will be very healthy and all three will help drive each other. If all three guys are firing, then that goes a long way in our team succeeding.

"At some stage, we will experiment a little."

The All Blacks face Australia in Sydney on Saturday night, with the world champions looking for revenge, after the Wallabies upset the apple cart in a dead-rubber test in Brisbane last year.

On Monday, Coach Steve Hansen made headlines, when he cheekily proclaimed Australia as favourites for the tournament.

That suggestion was laughed off, both in New Zealand and Australia, with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika particularity amused by Hansen's claim.

With Hansen and Cheika sharing a history of verbal sparring, Fox believes this may have been a case of the All Blacks coach getting in the first punch.

"They beat us last time," Fox joked. "On balance, we are favourites, because we have dominated the battle for 15 years.

"But they have got better and the last time they played us, they got one over us. That was just a case of Steve lobbing one in and getting the game started I think."

The All Blacks head for Sydney on Sunday night, with Nehe Milner-Skudder left behind to get some game time for Manawatu in the Mitre 10 Cup.