Damian McKenzie backed by Tabai Matson to thrive in Chiefs No.10 jersey
Damian McKenzie's transition to from fullback to first-five-eight didn't go to plan first time, but it won't take long for him to fire on all cylinders.
That's according to Chiefs assistant coach Tabai Matson, who is working closely with the current incumbent fullback as he settles into his new role as the backline general.
McKenzie had a mixed outing in the 45-23 loss to the Crusaders on Saturday night, mixing mistakes with brilliance, try making with try costing.
The 22-year-old struggled on the back foot as the Crusaders loose forwards piled on the pressure and late in the game he threw an intercept pass that led to a George Bridge try.
But at times McKenzie's skillset was fully in display. A deft pass put Sam Cane through a gaping hole in the defensive line that resulted in seven points and there were random moments of the scintillating running play we have become accustomed to.
But Matson has stressed the need for patience as expectations on the young star grow, given he is replacing Aaron Cruden, who led the franchise to two Super Rugby titles.
"He has gone from being the action guy to the controller," Matson told Sunday Sport on RadioLIVE.
"There are little technical bits that he is working on but I think the transition won't take as long as people think. There were little glimmers last night of what he can do and is capable of."
Matson said they're committed to McKenzie taking on 10.
"Every week we need to work forward with what went well. He had a few issues with the left hand pass so that's a work on."
One area that impressed Matson was McKenzie's verbal game.
The 12-Test All Black has been vocal all pre-season and his communication during the season opener was top notch according to his assistant coach.
"That would be a concern if he wasn't [communicating]. The communication, the game understanding, the kicking game - he has all those skills," Matson said.
"It's about getting it all together. He is a very interesting prospect for New Zealand rugby's future."
As for the loss, Matson pointed to a somewhat controversial call in the 72nd minute as the turning point of the game.
With the Chiefs trailing by three points, Crusaders midfield back Ryan Crotty was bundled into touch as he attempted to cross the line.
Chiefs defender Lachlan Boshier was ruled to have prevented a try from being scored with an illegal tackle that made contact with Crotty's head and was subsequently yellow-carded.
To make matters worse, the Crusaders were awarded a penalty try.
Matson said despite the fact that Crotty was at hip height when diving for the tryline, the referee's got the decision right... technically.
"I'm not really sure what the solution is. When you go through the process then the decision was absolutely right," Matson told RadioLIVE.
"We are all for player welfare in terms of contact with the head and even though it was a tipping point of the game and some might say the call was a bit harsh, you have to agree with the judgement.
"There was nothing in that call that didn't make sense."
The Chiefs travel to Auckland to play the Blues on Friday night while the Crusaders host the Stormers on Saturday night.
Listen to the full interview with Tabai Matson above.
Sunday Sport with Andrew Gourdie & Jim Kayes, 2pm - 6pm on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.
RadioLIVE - with additional reporting by Newshub.