Age a worry for Benji: McKenzie

2013-07-19 10:32
Benji Marshall (Getty)
Sydney - Incoming Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie doubts Benji Marshall can adapt fast enough to make a big impact as a rugby union playmaker.

According to the website, in a sign the ARU is unlikely to target Marshall, McKenzie said the Wests Tigers five-eighth might have left his run too late to be a star in the 15-man code.

Marshall, 28, has been linked to Super Rugby franchises Melbourne Rebels and the Auckland Blues after announcing he wants to leave the Tigers at the end of the season and possibly play for the All Blacks.

While the Waratahs have played down talk they could sign the Kiwi international, Red mentor McKenzie warned he didn't possess the instincts required to be a game-breaking rugby playmaker.

''I don't doubt the competitiveness; I don't doubt the athleticism; I don't doubt the skill. It's more about where the instincts are,'' said McKenzie, who starts as Wallabies coach next month. ''That determines how successful you are going to be. The older you are, the more entrenched you are with the instincts of whatever you've been doing and the harder it is to suddenly go and develop new instincts.''

McKenzie rated Marshall an X-factor talent like mercurial Reds No 10 Quade Cooper, but questioned if he'd adapt to less space available in rugby's phase attack.

''These players do well because they don't think about things - they just do it,'' he said. ''It's like changing gears in your car. The space in rugby and the space in rugby league are different. The good players can learn but it's just a question of how long they take; how long the investment is before you get the return … the older the guy is, the harder it is to make the transition.''

Rugby's most successful league converts have been outside-backs; Israel Folau, Lote Tuqiri, Jason Robinson and Mat Rogers largely played in the back three, while Rogers had four seasons before he played No 10. Sonny Bill Williams also produced his best season at inside-centre last year, his third full year in the code.

Watahs assistant coach Alan Gaffney said there might not be room in the Waratahs' back line if they retained Folau and signed Wallabies teammate Kurtley Beale.

''Obviously if we get certain other individuals [Folau and Beale] to come on board, whether there's a balance there for him to even fit into the Waratahs is a debatable issue,'' he said.

McKenzie said he spoke with Marshall's manager, among others, when he was coaching the Waratahs last decade as NSW tried to fix their Achilles heel.

He eventually settled on waiting for Beale to finish high school.

Read more on:    wallabies  |  ewen mckenzie  |  benji marshall  |  rugby

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