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'He knows who he is in an All Black jersey now': Richie Mo'unga living up to his promise

By Ned Lester
Richie Mo'unga at All Blacks training. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Richie Mo’unga’s Super Rugby career may lay claim to being the greatest in history but the seven-time champion has struggled to truly find his feet on the international stage since his debut in 2018.

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Mo’unga started in the No 10 jersey for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in a dual-pivot role with Beaduen Barrett starting at fullback, an experiment that failed to fire under Sir Steve Hansen against the new wave of rush defence.

In the years following, despite his continued success in Super Rugby, Mo’unga’s starting role at the next level wasn’t guaranteed but instead subject to a debate that split All Blacks supporters for the most part of Ian Foster’s head coaching tenure. Neither player managed to lock the jersey down.

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Beauden Barrett started the first four Tests of 2022 before being shifted back to the No 15 jersey to make way for Mo’unga, where the two have remained since.

In 2023, fans have finally seen a chemistry between the two playmakers that appears to be bringing the best out of each player’s skillset for the first time.

Barrett’s vision allows him to inject his attacking game at opportune moments while offering the defensive line a master communicator. Meanwhile, Mo’unga has the keys to the attack and thrives on the unpredictability of the game plan.

It’s a combination that many fans thought may never flourish, especially when both players were struggling to play behind a struggling pack.

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But today, there is little doubt remaining over the selection, Richie Mo’unga has grown into the All Blacks No 10 jersey. Saturday’s match-winning penalty kick was only further evidence the 29-year-old is finally ready for the greatest challenges in rugby.

“Being a leader of this environment was hard to begin with,” Mo’unga said prior to The Rugby Championship. “Wearing the 10 jersey and being a pivot in the All Blacks demands that you are a leader and I think when I first came in I wasn’t ready for that or I didn’t have the confidence.

“But I think I’m, more than ever, ready to own that role and take charge if the team needs me to take charge, and just really understand what our team is trying to achieve so I can help the team do that.”

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The kick completed a 20-point comeback that extended the All Blacks’ unbeaten run to 11 games.

One of the enduring points in the Mo’unga vs Barrett debate was the need to pick a player and stick with him in order for the player’s confidence and chemistry in the backline to have any chance of thriving.

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Pundits suggest the end of the debate has offered Mo’unga the license to truly be himself and find his feet on the field. What impressed former All Black Jeff Wilson the most was Mo’unga’s comments after the match.

“You want your best players to step up in the biggest moments and he said some wonderful things after the game,” Wilson told The Breakdown. “His expectation was that he was entirely comfortable with this responsibility, he felt it was going to go over. That’s his job and he knows his job.

“But we’re seeing a confidence out of this young man now as a player in 2023, I don’t think we’ve seen ever in an All Black jersey. For him to come on and to not just make this kick, but to drive the team back to a point where they could win, the decision-making before that, the way they started controlling territory and they kept building momentum.

“I just think he knows who he is in an All Black jersey now. We talked about this all season, about the keys to the car and he owns those now. He is completely comfortable with that.

“I’m just bitterly disappointed that we’re not going to see it after this Rugby World Cup and it’s heading offshore.”

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Comments

3 Comments
H
Henare 339 days ago

The good thing about having richie and beaudy playing along side each is having a playing that will cover the wider spots on the field if beaudy ever needs to come in and shovel off as first or second reciever, the player that covers that open space, is will jordan. It's probably more of a natural reaction for those players rather than an expectation or a designed outlook when beaudy does go into the backline.

J
JD Kiwi 339 days ago

I suspect that Schmidt has come in and given them clarity, structure and direction, which gives Mo'unga a more solid base framework to operate in. BB is probably clearer about when he can and can't come in to first receiver too.

C
Craig S 339 days ago

Hard to disagree, BB and RM are working really well together. The combo BB had with DMac in the Argentina game was excellent as well. Not a bad spot to be in at the moment.

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