With the World Cup now just 15 months away, the 26-year-old is viewing his move back north of the Border on a two-year deal as an opportunity to convince Scotland coach Vern Cotter that he can do a job for the national team in one of the few positions where Scotland can boast genuine strength in depth.
The Dunfermline-born lock started his professional career when he signed for the capital outfit back in 2008, and by the time he left the club to join Sale Sharks in 2011 he was one of the most exciting prospects in the Scottish game. He had already played a handful of games for the Scotland A team, had been a member of the national training squad during the 2010 Autumn Test series and it seemed only a matter of time before he would win full international honours.
That was until injury and a cataclysmic slump in the Sharks’ fortunes rendered him one of Scottish rugby’s forgotten men. He has spent the last three years as an uncapped and increasingly frustrated bystander as the likes of Jonny Gray and Grant Gilchrist have jumped ahead in the Scotland pecking order.
McKenzie realised that he needed to take decisive action quickly so when the opportunity came along to return north it was not a decision he needed to think very long about.
“I still had a year left on my contract, but managed to come to an agreement to arrange the move. I just felt it was a good time for me to come back especially with the opportunities in my position. It has always been in my plan to come back,” he said. “There are big opportunities up here. I need to be back in this hub to get on the radar.
“I know there are no guarantees that I will get in [to the Scotland team] because I have come back. It is a highly contested position, but it means it is all in my own hands now. It gives me the opportunity to prove myself.”
Despite a frustrating time in England, McKenzie believes that he returns to Scotland a better player for the experience.
“People might say that my game has gone backwards because I got into the Six Nations squad just after I went down there but then injured my shoulder and Sale had quite a poor year the following season. Then I moved to Newcastle last summer and they have struggled as well. So, it has been quite a tough time, but I’ve still managed to play three years of Premiership rugby, and I’ve added different characteristics to my game,” he said. “It’s a tough league – it’s set-piece orientated and you’ve got to do the dirty work like hitting rucks, scrummaging and mauling. So I’m more experienced now and still have the attributes I had when I first played here.”