Barrett, Mo'unga experiment 'worth the risk'
REACTION: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen admits starting his two world-class flyhalves Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga against South Africa is a gamble, but is worth it in terms of World Cup planning.
Hansen sprung a surprise on Thursday naming Mo’unga in the 10 jersey with Barrett at 15 for Saturday’s Test in Wellington with regular fullback Ben Smith moving to the right wing.
He also hinted at further changes which could include moving captain Kieran Read to the side of the scrum to shore up the loose trio.
Read is among eight members of the Super Rugby champion Crusaders to return to the All Blacks along with a now injury-free Sonny Bill Williams.
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The question of whether rising star Mo’unga or double World Player of the Year Barrett is the better pivot has divided New Zealand rugby followers for the past two years.
Hansen said he had debated for some time how best to utilise both players simultaneously, and with the World Cup looming this crunch Test against the Springboks appeared to be the right time to experiment.
“There’s always a risk in anything you do. I’ve often said if the reward’s worth the risk, then take the risk,” he said, indicating the pair gave him two players capable of keeping the big Springbok pack moving.
“We’ve got a plan with a whole lot of things that we want to do before we get to the nitty-gritty business [of the World Cup] and we just felt Saturday’s the right time to try that particular part of the plan,” he added.
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Mo’unga, the backline director for the Crusaders, will be playing only his 10th Test while Barrett, who has plenty of experience at fullback, will be playing his 75th.
World Cup priority
Although the All Blacks are keen to avenge last year’s Rugby Championship loss to the Springboks in Wellington, Hansen insisted that winning the series, which also includes Australia and Argentina, was not a priority.
“That’s no disrespect to the Rugby Championship, it’s just the way it happens to be in World Cup year,” he said.
“It means taking a few risks but we’re happy to do that,” he added.
In the search for a regular blindside flank, with Liam Squire unavailable, the four-Test Shannon Frizell will wear the six jersey on Saturday.
Hansen would not be drawn on whether he was also considering regular loose forward Read for that role after Ardie Savea had an outstanding game at the back of the scrum against Argentina last week.
“You’ll have to wait and see,” he told reporters.
“There’s no point in me telling the world what we’re doing. They can find out. It’s a good question but I can’t answer it.”
After Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test New Zealand and South Africa next clash in their opening pool match of the Rugby World Cup on September 21 in Japan.