Damian McKenzie will not be a Chiefs players in the upcoming 2022 Super Rugby campaign as momentum continues to gather behind his projected move to Japan at the end of this year.
New Zealand star McKenzie has been linked with a lucrative move to Japan with Tokyo Sungoliath, although nothing has been made official in regards to his destination.
What is known, however, is that he’ll longer be on the roster of his usual Hamilton franchise after chief executive Michael Collins confirmed his exit on Tuesday.
“Look, all I know is Damian’s not going to be with us, at the moment that’s all I can sort of comment on,” Collins told Stuff.co.nz when asked about McKenzie’s future.
The fly-half has been associated with Sungoliath, who signed another All Black in Beauden Barrett for their 2021 season and look likely to return to New Zealand for his replacement.
The most uncertain factor is McKenzie’s future in regards to a potential comeback, with no word on a new contract with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) following his prospective stint in Japan.
McKenzie has made 95 appearances for the Chiefs and was top points-scorer in this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa, leading the team to a runner-up finish behind the Crusaders.
At 26 years of age, there’s ample time for the playmaker to earn big money abroad before returning to seek his century in Waikato, where he’s spent his entire Super Rugby career to date.
And the Chiefs have already moved to acquire his replacement in Josh Ioane after he was released from his contract with the Highlanders one year early.
Like Mckenzie, Ioane (also 26) is accustomed to splitting his time between fly-half and full-back, bringing a range to the squad that wasn’t lost on interim coach Clayton McMillan.
“Josh is a quality footballer and welcome addition to the Gallagher Chiefs,” said McMillan.
“His versatility and experience is advantageous, but more importantly, creates further depth and genuine competition for places across our backline.”
Auckland native Ioane will move to Hamilton after spending the first three years of his Super Rugby career with the Highlanders.
The utility back also has one New Zealand cap to his name after impressing enough to earn a call-up against Tonga in 2019, though he’s yet to add to that tally since.
After news of his move to Waikato Stadium, Ioane told the official Chiefs website: “I have loved my time with the Highlanders and am grateful for everything they have done for me.
“However, I’m excited to link up with the Chiefs whanau, they’ve built an amazing culture up there from what I’ve heard and I admire what the Gallagher Chiefs are about. Hopefully I am able to add something to that environment.”
Fans will hope the player is capable of filling the void left by McKenzie next season, though that’s a tall order given he’s one of the best attacking players in the southern hemisphere.
Following Collins’ confirmation that the talisman won’t be among their ranks in 2022, it’s only a matter of time before details regarding McKenzie’s next move are rubber-stamped.
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