Few players call out so loudly for a starting Test spot, than Richie Mo’unga. The Crusaders and Canterbury first-five is very much proven in domestic competition – it seems [to the majority] that the time is now for Richie to be given his first test start – in the upcoming weekend’s test; NZLvARG
He has displayed all the criteria needed. A front-foot player in his own right, Mo’unga plays both attack and defence. He can tackle, communicates well and appears to be a well organized defender. In a test match situation, if the doubt is that he will be daunted by opposition running hard at him, then it is not compelling.
Time is now for Richie Mo’unga – NZLvARG
The call for Mo’unga to start is strong. And while there were few complaints about Beauden Barrett’s performance in Auckland, the situation is not one of ‘lets wait and see’. That time was reduced when Lima Sopoaga took up a contract in English Premiership Rugby.
The need to blood new talent is a demand that time seems more relevant – all due respect to the opposition, but the consideration needs to be favoured toward building experience now….rather than simply an experiment. The choice of first-fives is limited, so before the 2019 Rugby World Cup, head coach Steve Hansen is counting down the 350 days, until the tournament.
It is not a case of ‘reaching for the unknown’ either. This player has been playing at a top level since 2016, playing at a level that exceeds his years and his experience is as strong as others, who have put their hands up [so early].
Think Jeff Wilson, Jonah Lomu, David Kirk and others, who all made their claim for a starting place via form, and via their individual ambition, and when given a chance. It is also a valuable element in any team environment, to put pressure on the incumbents.
Just like Aaron Cruden applied pressure to Dan Carter, which in 2015 brought the best out of DC. Pressure that has benefited many players in the All Blacks, as much as within Los Pumas or the Springboks – all international sides improve from internal pressure and bringing in new talent – when they have earned that opportunity.
So what experience does Richie Mo’unga need? Hasn’t he already played at Super Rugby level? Even while that is not the highest level of rugby union, Mo’unga has played in top-flight matches already, that have necessarily mirrored the Test match-level pressure.
Experience with the Barbarians v All Blacks
Many tend to forget that Richie Mo’unga has played a non-Test match ‘against’ the All Blacks. A unique position, for a player so young. His call by Robbie Deans to face the touring New Zealand side on November 4, 2017 gives him a head start.
That Baabaas call-up came after the player secured his first Super Rugby title in August, and an Mitre 10 Cup championship. His form was strong then; especially in scoring a try against the All Blacks, that only reinforced his prospects.
Soon after, the All Blacks management came calling. He was convinced to join the touring group in France, and was fortunate to play against a French XV. It seemed his star was on the rise, after a record breaking 2017 season.
That exposure to the All Blacks environment led to his inclusion in the 2018 full test team, after Beauden Barrett suffered an injury in June. Mo’unga played in the third test, to earn his only cap [to date]. And reports and comments from the All Blacks camp, was that Mo’unga was a bright pupil.
Possibly, that audition has counted towards a selection ahead of the Test against Argentina.
Why wait? Opportune time to ‘blood’ Richie Mo’unga
Grant Fox, a selector with the All Blacks has said ‘there is not a time that the selectors have identified as perfect, to blood any new player’. It could be in a trial game, a first test of a series, and dead-rubber third game or in a Pool game of a Rugby World Cup. That final scenario seems improbable, as the atmosphere and team goals would be inopportune – so why wait?
The final consideration must be that New Zealand Rugby always holds a focus on winning. No test match has ever been considered an ‘experiment’. The Rugby Championship, Bledisloe Cup, June Tests or end of Year fixtures, are no place to disgard the proud winning record.
Although the Baby Blacks in 1986 was close to that, it was due to the suspensions due to the Cavaliers tour. Those circumstances meant a host of debutants needed to be selected. This weekend, there is no need, other than to give some wider-group players time on the field.
What might count against Mo’unga getting his first start, is if Aaron Smith is given ‘the night off’. That would be both a benefit to the little general, but would stop the option of having a fresh number 10. The selectors would likely stick with either Barrett or Damian McKenzie. Not to the detriment of Mo’unga though, who would respect the choice.
The only ones who might be perturbed would be the thousands of Richie Mo’unga fans. They can wait for only a little longer…..and so can the individual. He must be waiting with baited breath, waiting for a little longer…..but you would hope only a bit longer.
His quality cannot be ignored. The opportunity to play; prior to the pressure-cooker moments of a test against England or Ireland in November, or even next July, is running out. It has to come sooner than later, surely for his admirers (and doubters) to know for sure – is this Richie going to have his name written alongside another, more esteemed Richie [McCaw].
Most feel he will fit the mold of great, sooner rather than later.
New Zealand v Argentina – 7:35pm (NZT) Saturday September 8
Note: the All Blacks team is announced on Thursday, September 6
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