Australian Rugby
Ewen McKenzie pours water on Benji Marshall
July 18, 2013

Incoming Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie doubts Benji Marshall can adapt quickly enough to make a big impact as a rugby union playmaker, his quotes a suggestion the Australian Rugby Union is unlikely to target the Wests Tigers NRL player's signature.

Marshall, 28, has been linked with Super Rugby clubs Melbourne Rebels, New South Wales Waratahs and the Auckland-based Blues after announcing he wants to leave the Tigers at the end of the NRL season and possibly play for the All Blacks.

Waratahs officials have played down talk they might sign the Kiwis international, and McKenzie warned on Thursday that the player didn't possess the instincts required of 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 in August. "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 similar to Queensland Reds No.10 Quade Cooper, but the coach questioned whether the New Zealander would adapt to the restricted 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 is 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. My experience is that the older the guy is, the harder it is to make the transition."

Rugby's most successful league converts have been outside backs, with Israel Folau, Lote Tuqiri, Jason Robinson and Mat Rogers largely playing 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 in 2012, his third full year in the code.

Waratahs assistant coach Alan Gaffney also indicated the club might not have room in the backline 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.

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