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'I like Beauden at 10': Wallabies legend Will Genia weighs into Barrett-Mo'unga debate

By Alex McLeod

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Wallabies legend Will Genia has waded into the debate over who should start at first-five for the All Blacks between Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga.

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Fans and pundits alike are split over who should don the No. 10 jersey for the New Zealand national side ahead of the team’s first test of the year against Tonga in Auckland on Saturday.

With two World Rugby Player of the Year awards, a World Cup title and 88 test caps to his name, many believe Barrett is the right man for the job.

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Wallabies season preview with Will Genia | Aotearoa Rugby Pod
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Wallabies season preview with Will Genia | Aotearoa Rugby Pod

However, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has opted to push the 30-year-old to fullback in recent seasons to accomodate for Mo’unga, who has been labelled by some as the greatest Super Rugby player of all-time due to his efforts for the Crusaders.

That has seen the 27-year-old become the preferred first-five option for the All Blacks over the past two years, but he has struggled to replicate his Super Rugby form on the international scene since his test debut in 2018.

With Barrett publicly outlining his intention to play at No. 10 for the All Blacks, Foster is faced with one of the bigger selection dilemmas in recent All Blacks history as two of New Zealand’s biggest stars eye up the same jersey.

Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Genia gave his verdict on the debate as he revealed he prefers Barrett in the No. 10 jersey because of his multi-faceted attacking skill set, which he believes is better suited to first-five than fullback.

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Having played Barrett many times both at Super Rugby level and in test rugby, Genia said he found it “incredibly hard to defend” the ex-Hurricanes playmaker whenever the pair clashed over the last decade.

“Richie’s been the best player in Super Rugby for the last three or four years. He’s head and shoulders above everybody, well and truly, but I don’t think he’s carried entirely all that form over to the test match arena,” the former 110-test veteran said.

“You look at someone like Beauden Barrett, when he was in that role, when they said to him, ‘You’re running the team, you’ve got the keys to the team, you’re the No. 10’, he was World Player of the Year two years in a row and nominated for a third.

“From a preferential perspective, I like Beauden at 10, having played against him at 10. I just think his ability as a ball runner at that next level, to be able to beat that first defender and use his speed, use his strengths, a lot of the time that gets him out of trouble when the team is in trouble.

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“He’s also got exceptional skills as well. I think he’s more suited to 10 than he is 15. He has more of an impact and more of an influence on the game starting at 10 than he does at 15.

“For me, a player like him, having played against him, he was so hard to defend against at 10, because you’ve got the run threat, the kick threat, the pass threat, and it’s incredibly hard to defend against.”

While Genia vocally advocated for Barrett’s selection in the No. 10 jersey, Crusaders and Maori All Blacks halfback Bryn Hall indicated his preference to see Mo’unga given an extended run as New Zealand’s chief first-five.

Hall has acted as Mo’unga’s halves partner at the Crusaders since his move from the Blues in 2017 and has been prominent in the Christchurch-based franchise’s recent run of success that saw them win five straight titles between 2017 and 2021.

Having worked so closely with Mo’unga during that period, Hall said his franchise teammate is eager to step up to the plate for the All Blacks as he has done for the Crusaders.

“We have talked about it a lot on this podcast, around Richie having a couple of years in the All Black environment, and I think this year is a really important year for him for his growth,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“He’s been, over the last three or four years, a large cog in the Crusaders’ wheel. He’s played fantastic at that and been the best in Super Rugby, but now it’s time for him to really step it up.

“From the comms we’ve had from him the whole year, I think he’s really going to embrace the challenge from Beaudy in the squad.”

Asked whether the All Blacks need to alter their playing style to allow Mo’unga to flourish behind a forward pack, former two-test All Blacks hooker James Parsons said the onus is on the individual player to perform to the best of their ability.

“Your 10 is your general, so even if forwards are there and you want the ball, you’ll get it, so it’s just on the 10 to run the cutter the way he sees fit,” the ex-Blues captain said.

“I think the one thing, from a forwards point of view, if you’re just told what’s needed of you, you’ll do it, especially at that level.

“The biggest focus is you’ve got to nail your role, be consistent in your role and that will create opportunities for guys like Richie and Beauden.

“If you’re consistent in your running lines, in your set-up, in your tempo to clean rucks, all those little things add up to opportunities for those guys to exploit.”

Foster will reveal who will start at first-five when the All Blacks announce their team to play Tonga on Thursday, with kick-off for that match scheduled for 7:05pm at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday.

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'I like Beauden at 10': Wallabies legend Will Genia weighs into Barrett-Mo'unga debate

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