Developing duo impress for All Blacks

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

They were two of New Zealand’s more left-field selections in the opening Bledisloe but Damian McKenzie and Liam Squire proved their respective worth on Saturday night.

Squire put aside an injury-hampered mid-year to make the most of his start over Jerome Kaino, scoring the opening try of the match on the edge.

It’s a position in which he finds himself often, for club team the Highlanders, and the flanker wasn’t worried about playing in those wide channels.

Squire’s score showed early on the gulf between Australia and New Zealand in the skills department, with their forwards as dynamic as any of their backs.

“I was a bit surprised about the space in front of me,” Squire said post-match.

“I didn't know if I was going to get there but I was lucky enough to score a try.

“It wasn't easy but put a bit of work to get there so it was lucky the guys inside me were doing their job.”

His was a performance that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was especially pleased to see.

“He played well and he rewarded the team and himself, us for working hard with him over the last 18 months and he's a pretty phenomenal rugby player when he gets it right and tonight he got it right so he's lovely to watch,” he said.

Squire won’t be letting any complacency get in his way ahead of the second Test.

“To put a performance out there I can be proud of but I'm not going to get too ahead of myself. We've got another game against the Wallabies next week,” he said.

“Tonight will probably mean nothing if I don't back it up if I get the chance. I can only put my best foot forward this week and hopefully have a crack.”

McKenzie’s game was symptomatic of the All Blacks and the dynamic fullback felt he had plenty to improve.

“(It was) a massive occasion to be a part of a Bledisloe and to start, so probably the biggest Test to date for myself,” he said.

“I was excited and the boys really got around me throughout the week and they said, 'be yourself and just play your game,’ and I managed to do that at some stages and obviously a lot to work on for next week.

"(I’ll just be) Focusing on each job as it comes and just being patient.

“Threw a silly pass there which led to them scoring, so just the little things right which they'll come.”

Attack coach Ian Foster praised McKenzie’s composure in his first Test start.

“We've noticed a real growth in him,” he said.

“He seems really calm, settled and I think you saw someone playing with a real clear head out there tonight.

“Where e can get front foot ball like we had in that first 40-50 minutes he showed how good he can be.

“Really pleased and probably like the rest of the team, dropped off a little bit but overall very satisfied.”

Israel Dagg is likely to be back in the mix for selection in the back three, on the wing or at fullback, but McKenzie said he had no indication whether the combination would be reshuffled for the Dunedin Test.