CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – The conveyor belt of New Zealand rugby talent continues to churn out players with the Midas touch.
Exciting young backs Damian McKenzie and David Havili proved crucial to the All Blacks’ success as they edged South Africa 25-24 at Newlands on Saturday to again finish the Rugby Championship with a 100 percent record.
The pair combined for a brilliant try at a crucial juncture of a keenly contested game to underline the depth of the world champions, who had to turn to their bench earlier than usual after a bruising confrontation with the Springboks.
Havili’s break and a jinking run and burst of pace from McKenzie restored New Zealand’s lead, with a classic piece of counter-attacking at a time when the Boks looked to have the momentum as the match approached the final 10 minutes.
“You’ve got two young guys who are going to take a bucket-load of confidence out of being under an extreme amount of pressure and come out and know that they can do things well,” said coach Steve Hansen after Saturday’s narrow victory.
“There’s no doubt that try was the catalyst for us winning the game.” McKenzie, 22, has proved his mettle during this year’s Rugby Championship after taking over at fullback, while Havili, also 22, made an impressive debut against Argentina last week and shone again when he came on against the South Africans.
“Damian McKenzie’s growing at fullback, even though deep down we don’t really think that’s his position. He’s going to play a lot of five-eighth, I’d suggest, for the Chiefs with Cruden gone,” Hansen said earlier this week of the youngster, drawing comparisons with All Black great Dan Carter.
“So there’s a guy that could play both positions.”
McKenzie, who has also played on the wing and at flyhalf for the Kiwis, said after Saturday’s test he had no preference.
“I’m happy to play. Wherever they put me,” he told reporters. “I’m happy to go anywhere.”