Super Rugby Pacific: Damian McKenzie given first crack at sealing Chiefs' No.10 jersey, but no guarantees from coach Clayton McMillan

After speculation as to what number will be on his back come the opening round of Super Rugby Pacific, Damian McKenzie has been given the Chiefs' No.10 jersey for Friday's clash against the Crusaders.

McKenzie, 27, will make his first appearance in Super Rugby since 2021, after spending last year's season playing in Japan.

The future of the All Blacks' No.10 jersey is far from certain, with both Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett heading to Japan. 

Damian McKenzie.
Damian McKenzie. Photo credit: Photosport

In Mo'unga's case, a three-year contract wipes him from All Blacks availability for the foreseeable future, while Barrett is 31 and weighing up what his own future in the black jersey looks like.

At present, McKenzie and Stephen Perofeta of the Blues are the main contenders who already boast test experience, unless another first-five was to reveal himself over the next two seasons.

However, neither McKenzie nor Perofeta are outright No.10s, with both switching between first-five and fullback.

But with his own team's needs to think about, Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan says McKenzie will start the season at first-five, after impressing in pre-season.

"We know that he's capable of playing 10 and 15 well," said McMillan.

"This week he gets an opportunity off the back of an impressive 40 minutes against the Blues last week. 

"I thought he challenged the line and created opportunities for other people. I've had some success against the Crusaders with him at 10.

"He gets the nod, which is unfortunate for a couple of other 10s who've done bloody well in the pre-season too.

Despite picking McKenzie at 10 this week, though, McMillan gives no guarantee that's where he'll remain for the course of the season.

Boasting the likes of Bryn Gatland, former All Black Josh Ioane and rookie Rivez Reihana, McMillan says there will be plenty of chances for players to stake their claim as the Chiefs' go-to first-five this year.

"The first few weeks is an opportunity to give them all a legitimate opportunity to force their way into the 23.

"Beyond that, we'll look to solidify who's a regular starter in the 10 and 15 jersey."

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