Do Not Sell My Personal Information
RugbyPass Match Centre
Scores
Sorry there are no live games.
See what's coming up.
No games this week.
Full schedule >
No games this week.
Full schedule >
Wellington WEL Bay of Plenty BAY Fri
25 Sep
9:00am SAST
Tasman TAS Waikato WAI Sat
26 Sep
4:00am SAST
Southland SOU North Harbour HAR Sat
26 Sep
6:15am SAST
Hawke's Bay HAW Canterbury CAN Sat
26 Sep
9:00am SAST
Auckland AUC Manawatu MAN Sun
27 Sep
3:00am SAST
Taranaki TAR Otago OTA Sun
27 Sep
3:00am SAST
Counties COU Northland NOR Sun
27 Sep
5:15am SAST
Bay of Plenty BAY Auckland AUC Fri
2 Oct
8:00am SAST
Counties COU Manawatu MAN Sat
3 Oct
3:00am SAST
Northland NOR Taranaki TAR Sat
3 Oct
5:15am SAST
Canterbury CAN Wellington WEL Sat
3 Oct
8:00am SAST
Southland SOU Waikato WAI Sun
4 Oct
3:00am SAST
North Harbour HAR Tasman TAS Sun
4 Oct
3:00am SAST
Otago OTA Hawke's Bay HAW Sun
4 Oct
5:15am SAST
Manawatu MAN Canterbury CAN Fri
9 Oct
8:00am SAST
Taranaki TAR Auckland AUC Sat
10 Oct
3:00am SAST
Wellington WEL Otago OTA Sat
10 Oct
5:15am SAST
Waikato WAI Counties COU Sat
10 Oct
8:00am SAST
Tasman TAS Bay of Plenty BAY Sun
11 Oct
3:00am SAST
North Harbour HAR Hawke's Bay HAW Sun
11 Oct
3:00am SAST
Northland NOR Southland SOU Sun
11 Oct
5:15am SAST
Hawke's Bay HAW Northland NOR Fri
16 Oct
8:00am SAST
Manawatu MAN Bay of Plenty BAY Sat
17 Oct
3:00am SAST
Auckland AUC Tasman TAS Sat
17 Oct
5:15am SAST
Southland SOU Taranaki TAR Sat
17 Oct
8:00am SAST
Canterbury CAN Waikato WAI Sun
18 Oct
3:00am SAST
Otago OTA Counties COU Sun
18 Oct
3:00am SAST
Wellington WEL North Harbour HAR Sun
18 Oct
5:15am SAST
Otago OTA Northland NOR Fri
23 Oct
8:00am SAST
Bay of Plenty BAY Canterbury CAN Sat
24 Oct
3:00am SAST
Hawke's Bay HAW Manawatu MAN Sat
24 Oct
5:15am SAST
North Harbour HAR Auckland AUC Sat
24 Oct
8:00am SAST
Tasman TAS Southland SOU Sun
25 Oct
3:00am SAST
Counties COU Wellington WEL Sun
25 Oct
3:00am SAST
Waikato WAI Taranaki TAR Sun
25 Oct
5:15am SAST
Canterbury CAN Otago OTA Fri
30 Oct
8:00am SAST
Wellington WEL Tasman TAS Sat
31 Oct
3:00am SAST
Northland NOR North Harbour HAR Sat
31 Oct
5:15am SAST
Auckland AUC Waikato WAI Sat
31 Oct
8:00am SAST
Bay of Plenty BAY Hawke's Bay HAW Sun
1 Nov
3:00am SAST
Manawatu MAN Southland SOU Sun
1 Nov
3:00am SAST
Taranaki TAR Counties COU Sun
1 Nov
5:15am SAST
Southland SOU Otago OTA Fri
6 Nov
8:00am SAST
Auckland AUC Northland NOR Sat
7 Nov
3:00am SAST
North Harbour HAR Counties COU Sat
7 Nov
5:15am SAST
Tasman TAS Canterbury CAN Sat
7 Nov
8:00am SAST
Waikato WAI Bay of Plenty BAY Sun
8 Nov
3:00am SAST
Hawke's Bay HAW Wellington WEL Sun
8 Nov
3:00am SAST
Manawatu MAN Taranaki TAR Sun
8 Nov
5:15am SAST
Wed 15 Jan 2020 | 11:29

All Blacks star Mo'unga faces career-defining season

All Blacks star Mo'unga faces career-defining season
Wed 15 Jan 2020 | 11:29
All Blacks star Mo'unga faces career-defining season
SHARE

OPINION: When Richie Mo’unga helped guide the Crusaders to their third Super Rugby title on the trot in 2019, Mo’unga Mania hit its peak.

ADVERTISEMENT

At that point in time, Mo’unga had spent just one full season with the All Blacks, having first joined the squad on the 2017 end of year tour.

Mo’unga made his Test debut in the final quarter of the All Blacks’ 49-14 win over France in June 2018 but was very much the third-choice flyhalf behind Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie.

In match-day squads, Mo’unga typically found himself riding the pine with Barrett starting at 10 and McKenzie operating from fullback.

That wasn’t enough for the rabid Mo’unga fans (mainly out of Crusaders country), who wanted their Super Rugby-winning pivot guiding the All Blacks ship from kick-off.

There was a solid argument behind handing Mo’unga the reins. Of the three options, the Cantabrian was arguably the most natural flyhalf and arguably better at controlling a game than either Barrett or McKenzie.

Still, most of that conjecture was based on how Mo’unga had performed at the Crusaders, where he was happily perched behind the best pack in the competition.

ADVERTISEMENT

*Article continues below…

Video Spacer

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen did his best to temper expectations and bring everyone back down to Earth.

“He’s playing behind the Rolls Royce pack,” Hansen said of Mo’unga ahead of the 2018 Super Rugby final.

ADVERTISEMENT

“He’s playing the way we’re expecting him to play behind a pack like that.”

That did little to quieten the noise coming out of Christchurch, however.

With the All Blacks attack not quite fizzing in 2018, the Mo’unga fans were out in full voice suggesting that the problem was at 10.

Their wish was granted last year when McKenzie went down injured part-way through Super Rugby, ending his season.

With the All Blacks coaches having a preference towards operating with a dual-playmaker model, Mo’unga was thrust into the starting team at first five with Barrett shifting back to 15 for New Zealand’s first big Test of the year, against South Africa.

Before taking the field against the Springboks, Mo’unga had just two Test starts under his belt – against Argentina and Japan, two sides that have never beaten New Zealand.

The All Blacks’ game against the Springboks ended with the two rivals sharing the spoils, 16-all. Two weeks later, the All Blacks suffered a record defeat at the hands of the Wallabies.

It wasn’t exactly the start to Mo’unga’s international career that he would have wanted – but he was hardly to blame for either of the lacklustre NZ performances and went on to have a satisfactory, if not excellent year. For a rookie flyhalf, that’s not all too bad.

That being said, it would be hard to argue that Mo’unga helped unlock the All Blacks attack in the way that many of his fans suggested he would.

For all that New Zealand gained from having Mo’unga running the cutter, they lost just as much from shifting Barrett to fullback and operating without the pocket rocket McKenzie.

What should be a bigger concern surrounding Mo’unga, however, is the playmaker’s defence.

The first five channel is naturally a major source of attack for opposing defences – it’s one man away from the ruck and an easy target for a hard-running forward. Unsurprisingly, Mo’unga has copped his fair share of hits on defence over the last three years.

At 1.75 metres tall, Mo’unga is one of the smallest 10s doing the rounds in Super Rugby. He’s also one of the least successful tacklers.

In 2019, Mo’unga made just 68% of his tackles throughout Super Rugby. That’s not the worst stat out there, but for a player that’s hailed as one of the key cogs in the Crusaders machine, it’s far from ideal.

With some of the fiercest defenders in New Zealand around him, as well as reliable sweepers in the form of Mitchell Drummond and Bryn Hall, Mo’unga’s frailties on defence haven’t been an Achilles Heel for the Crusaders – but that could change this year thanks to the significant turnover in the forwards.

It also became more of a prevalent issue for the All Blacks, where the (mostly same) forwards aren’t quite as ferocious on a global scale and Aaron Smith is tasked with the key sweeper role.

*Article continues below…

Video Spacer

For all his obvious strengths, Smith is by no means a fantastic defender. He’s got the pace to make a nuisance of himself, but he’s not the man you’d want to be relying on to bring down a rampaging tight forward who’s already pierced the first line of defence.

Therein lies a major problem. With the 1.87 metre Barrett at first receiver – a man who rarely receives the credit he deserves for his defensive capabilities – there’s a lot more resolve in the All Blacks’ line. It’s for this reason why Barrett often defended at 10 last year, particularly off set-piece, even when wearing the 15 jersey.

Of course, even when not defending at 10, you still receive your fair share of traffic. While there were plenty of aspects of the All Blacks’ performance against England in last year’s World Cup semi-final that were underwhelming, it was Mo’unga who missed the tackle on Elliot Daly that gave England the field position they needed to score their only try of the game.

With the likes of Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Owen Franks and Sam Whitelock all absent from the Crusaders this year, Mo’unga’s defence may well come under more scrutiny.

The other factor, of course, is the return of Damian McKenzie from injury.

McKenzie could return for the Chiefs in their first match of the year, against the Blues on January 31.

Hansen persisted with the Barrett/McKenzie combination because it allowed Barrett to steer the ship from 10 while McKenzie surveyed the play and was able to exploit chinks in the opposition’s armour.

It was McKenzie who played out of skin to give New Zealand a shot against a dominant England side at the end of 2018 and the All Blacks could have benefitted from the Chief’s fleet-footedness and eye for a gap at the tail-end of the Rugby World Cup.

A new top dog in charge, with Ian Foster taking over from Hansen, could lead to changes in the composition of the New Zealand backline, but Barrett and McKenzie offer the ability to completely break a game open – which has become an invaluable attribute, given how tight defences are at present.

One way or another, Richie Mo’unga is set for a potentially career-defining season. If he can show that he can ignite a backline from 10, even without the best forward pack in the business, then perhaps his starting berth in the All Blacks will be safe come July. If it’s McKenzie who again takes the world by storm upon his return from injury, then Mo’unga may find himself playing second fiddle.

By Tom Vinicombe, Rugbypass

 

PV: 2911
ADVERTISEMENT
All Blacks star Mo'unga faces career-defining season - new zealand | Rugby365