'He warrants that position': Ian Foster settles on his dual playmakers
For the third time this year and ahead of their Rugby Championship opener against the Wallabies, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has opted for the first five-eighth and fullback combination of Richie Mo’unga and Damian McKenzie.
Beauden Barrett meanwhile, is set to make his 92nd All Blacks appearance from the bench.
Of course, much speculation emerged in 2021 as to how Barrett’s sabbatical in Japan might potentially affect his shot at a starting place in the All Blacks upon his return, particularly in the No 10 jersey. Richie Mo’unga’s outstanding form for the Crusaders throughout the course of this season, en route to a fifth Super Rugby title, is indicative of an ever-strengthening case for his selection ahead of Barrett.
Indeed Barrett, the World Rugby Men’s Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017, has since the start of 2020 made just two starts at first five for the All Blacks, with his other four starts coming at fullback.
However from Foster’s viewpoint, the Mo’unga-McKenzie combination has displayed enough in its two outings in 2021 to warrant dropping Barrett for the first Bledisloe Cup test of the season, as he potentially looks to once more deploy a dual playmaker attacking shape.
McKenzie more than most is familiar with such a shape, having been utilised regularly as a second pivot for the Chiefs in 2021, sharing in the responsibilities of distribution and game management with his No. 10. Moreover objectively speaking the structure deployed by the Chiefs was a success, as McKenzie played a crucial role in guiding the Chiefs to the Super Rugby Aotearoa final.
Discussing his choices at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, however, Foster was keen to keep his focus to a game-by-game basis, stating that Mo’unga’s selection was not a representation of sweeping changes.
“We just believe he’s right for this game,” remarked Ian Foster of Mo’unga.
Certainly, if Super Rugby Trans-Tasman is anything to go by, Foster may well have a point, with the electric feet of Mo’unga so often causing Australian defences all manner of problems in the competition.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 4, 2021
On his starting fullback, Foster highlighted that his selection had been earned, with 30-test McKenzie impressing through the week.
“Damian’s playing well,” said Foster. “We’re just really happy with how he’s going. We’ve got good competition there [in that position] as well, but I think Damian’s decision making is strong, he’s feeling good about his game, running fast and so I think he warrants that position.”
The All Blacks play Australia at Eden Park on Saturday 7 August (kick-off 7.05PM).
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