Super Rugby 2020; Blues beat Chiefs in pre-season, as Damian McKenize returns from injury

All Blacks utility Damian McKenzie has made a successful return from injury in the Chiefs' Super Rugby pre-season defeat to the Blues in Waihi on Friday.

McKenzie played 20 minutes off the bench in his first game in nine months after rupturing his ACL during last year's Super Rugby campaign, which also saw him miss the World Cup. 

While the Chiefs were on the wrong side of the 26-19 scoreline, the fact that McKenzie managed to finish the match unscathed is a big positive for Warren Gatland's side ahead of the 2020 season. 

"I was really excited to get out there, it was a beautiful day for it. It's been a long time coming but it was just nice to get a bit of early ball and early contact," said McKenzie, whose right knee was heavily strapped during the match.

"I've done a lot of work since my injury, a lot of rehab, and it's come back pretty strong.

"Obviously my first real injury, so it was a mental challenge to come back, and it really puts some perspective on what it's like to be injured and watching from the sideline, which was tough. But, look, it made me more hungry to come back."

Coach Gatland was impressed by what he saw from the 24-year-old. He knows that McKenzie still has plenty of work ahead to regain full fitness. 

"He looked confident," Gatland said. "We just wanted to give him 20 minutes to get out there. 

"You can see what sort of impact he's going to have in a few weeks when he starts having some more game time and he starts getting aerobically fit. So we've just got to make sure that we're smart and look after him."

McKenzie played the entire match at fullback, and that's where he expects to play most of his rugby this season. 

"I'm focused on 15 at the moment and trying to cement a spot there if I can focus on that and come into 10 when I need to that will be the ideal situation.

Next Friday the Blues have a hitout against the Hurricanes on the North Shore, while the Chiefs will play an inter-squad game next week. 

The Blues host the Chiefs in the season opener at Eden Park on January 31. 

Meanwhile, the Highlanders' pre-season opener ended in disappointment with a 40-21 defeat against the Waratahs at Sydney's Leichhardt Oval. 

The Highlanders raced out to a 14-0 lead, before the Waratahs came roaring back to secure victory. 

The Highlanders return home and will play the Crusaders in their next pre-season game in Wanaka on Friday.

The Crusaders open their pre-season campaign against the Hurricanes in Ashburton on Saturday. 

Blues 26 (Kurt Eklund, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Matt Duffie, Hoskins Sotutu tries; Stephen Perofeta 2 con, Harry Plummer con) Chiefs 19 (Samisoni Taukei'aho 2, Naitoa Ah Kuoi tries; Kaleb Trask 2 con).

Waratahs 40 (Harry Johnson-Holmes, Carlo Tizzano (2), Alex Newsome, Michael McDonald, James Ramm tries; Mack Mason 5 con) Highlanders 21 (Sio Tompkinson, Nathan Vella, Daniel Lienert-Brown, tries; Mitch Hunt 3 con.

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