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    Stransky awed by Chiefs wunderkind

    2016-04-06 21:37

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – He has been one of the hottest performers across the conferences in the early weeks of Super Rugby 2016 … and Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie’s feats at the tender age of 20 have not escaped the attention of the Springboks’ World Cup 1995 flyhalf icon Joel Stransky.

    The emergence of McKenzie, an only recently-converted No 10, in the last line of the competition leaders’ defence has earned rich eulogies from scribes in the land of the current world champions, but Stransky weighed in enthusiastically from further afield this week.

    Speaking on the SuperSport rugby talk show “TMO”, Stransky said the multi-skilled dimensions brought by the unusually lightweight – by modern standards – McKenzie went a long way to explaining the Chiefs’ current pace-setting standards; they boast 24 points from six matches and five victories.

    “He just reads the game so well,” enthused Stransky. “He offloads perfectly, shows patience, and importantly has the vision to kick well into space when required.

    “He seems the complete player, and the other advantage is that they have Aaron Cruden as the No 10: that means two great decision-makers in the team.

    “Both are slight, small guys (McKenzie is 1.75m and just above 80kg – Sport24) but decision-makers and great runners too.”

    An ever more apparent trademark of McKenzie, in his extra duty of place-kicking, is his “smiling assassin” look in the immediate seconds before he strikes the ball.

    Said Stransky: “I love watching McKenzie kick for goal because the last thing he does is that little wry smile … he sort of visualises exactly where (he thinks) the ball is going to go. He just has real enjoyment of what he does.”

    The quirky ritual seems to work most of the time, given that McKenzie has landed 31 of 43 pot-shots at the posts and leads the Super Rugby “most points” category (with 108) by a runaway margin of 38 points from the Brumbies’ Christian Lealiifano (70) and then the Lions’ Bok hopeful Elton Jantjies (66).

    He also sports the most tries (seven), has beaten more defenders (30) than anyone else, leads for carries (82) and is second for most metres gained (463).

    On the same show as Stransky, another former Bok in midfielder Gcobani Bobo gave his appraisal of the collective Chiefs mojo at present: “Their fitness is (a big factor) … the way their players keep recycling, so they get into right positions and deliver the ball to the right people.

    “The other brilliant thing about the Chiefs is the intensity; the hard work (coach) Dave Rennie has put in. He’s empowered the players in their skill sets.”

    The Chiefs’ only defeat thus far came at home to the Lions in the second round, which says plenty about how Johan Ackermann has developed the Johannesburg team’s own game.

    But the Waikato outfit have already whipped the Kings in Port Elizabeth (58-24) and face just one more South African opponent in ordinary season, the Sharks, at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth on April 29.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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