Rugby: How Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo'unga influenced Damian McKenzie's decision to re-sign with NZ Rugby

All Blacks hopeful Damian McKenzie has revealed he may have returned to Japan after the World Cup, had Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga stayed in New Zealand.

The pair have had the All Blacks No.10 jersey on lock for the past several years, but have both signed on to play in the land of the rising sun next year.

Their pending departures have opened the door for a new first-five to stake their claim, with none doing so more than McKenzie.

McKenzie has been the standout in the position for Super Rugby Pacific's best team, with the Chiefs unbeaten through the first nine rounds.

He admits his decision to re-sign for another two years with NZ Rugby was swayed by the All Blacks opening at first-five from 2024.

"There's an opportunity there, and you can't forget Stevie [Stephen Perofeta] as well, he's obviously been in the All Blacks in that position too," he said.

"I've got to earn my way back into an All Blacks spot, and hopefully, I can do that this year. 

"Obviously, it's a little more enticing when there's more opportunity with players leaving. Richie and Beaden have set the benchmark for years.

"It's been great learning from them, and hopefully, it will be great to step into that role.

"With fewer tens, it obviously entices the decision to stick around, but it would've been interesting to see what happened.

"I will always back myself to try and play rugby, and hopefully get back into the All Blacks team, but it might have been a different decision if those boys were around, I'm not sure."

McKenzie spent last season in Japan, where he finished as the competition's top-point scorer with Tokyo Sungoliath.

With a couple of offers on the table to return after the World Cup, the decision to recommit to NZ Rugby wasn't always an easy one.

"To be honest, I was on the fence," McKenzie said. "But the gut feeling was to stick around. I love New Zealand, I love playing here, and it's definitely tough on the body.

"But since coming back into the environment, it's [been] awesome, I'm loving it. I'm really looking forward to sticking around here for two more years.

"I can just feel coming back into the Chiefs environment, and realised 'this is a hell of a group', and a good mix of experience and youth.

"We're going to lose a few of the old heads, but the guys coming through, they speak for themselves with how well they're playing."