Super Rugby Pacific: Refreshed Damian McKenzie embraces 'hybrid' role with Chiefs as All Blacks opportunity awaits

Having returned from his sabbatical in Japan, Damian McKenzie is keen to assert himself as the Chiefs first choice first-five.

That could be music to the ears of the All Blacks, who will lose two key figures in that position after the World Cup.

The outskirts of Hamilton are a far cry from the bright lights of Tokyo, but McKenzie is back where he says he belongs, after a season with Suntory and he's ready to make an instant impact for his beloved Chiefs.

"I enjoyed my time over there but it's just rejuvenated me to come back," McKenzie told Newshub. "I've missed playing in Super Rugby."

McKenzie returns with fresh energy and a season of opportunity in front of him.

With both Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett heading to Japan next season, the All Blacks first-five door is about to be flung wide open. 

"Whatever comes later in the year will happen, but it's about me putting good form out on the park at the start of the year and then building on that," he said.

He’ll begin the season at the pivot against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night.

"I want to have a good crack at 10 this year as well, and I'm sure I'll find myself at 15 sometimes too," he added. "It's a bit of a hybrid."

While McKenzie is keen to establish himself at first five, it’s a balancing act.

Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan intends to get the best out of his versatile star by allowing him to move between both first-five and fullback.

McMillan believes that flexibility will only strengthen his bid to return to the All Blacks.

"In that All Blacks space, he's got to perform and it's irrelevant around what position he plays, if he plays well," McMillan said. "We know he's capable of playing 10 and 15."

Regardless where he plays, the Chiefs will relish having McKenzie's influence back on the park but know it will take more than just him to capture a third Super Rugby crown. 

"We're building to something special," McKenzie insisted. "You can really feel it throughout the environment.

A first-up clash with the defending champions will offer the first glimpse as to how special that might be. 

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