'I'd give Richie the points': State of All Blacks' No 10 battle
In what could be an indication of who the All Blacks see as their first-choice No 10, Richie Mo’unga has been given the nod to start ahead of the more experienced Beauden Barrett in the final game of the Steinlager Series.
Mo’unga will line up alongside last week’s captain Aaron Smith for the first time this July and while head coach Ian Foster may simply be using the match to further prepare his team for the upcoming Rugby Championship, there are indications that Mo’unga is the preferred first five-eighth for the side – at least for the time being.
Mo’unga was superb throughout this year’s Super Rugby season and had an easy time of things against Tonga two weeks ago while Barrett spent the season representing Suntory Sungoliath in Japan and struggled at times against Fiji last Saturday. Admittedly, the Fijians put up a considerably tougher fight than their Pacific neighbours but Mo’unga now has the opportunity to showcase his talents against those same players that proved so problematic against the All Blacks over the weekend.
“I think [the battle at No 10 is] shaping up just nicely,” Foster said today after revealing his team to play Fiji this weekend. “It’s not like we’re trying to design a big boxing match, one against the other. We’re trying to grow our 10s in terms of understanding how we play.
“I think I’d give Richie the points based on the first two games but to be fair, we always expected that.”
While Barrett hardly had a poor game against Fiji in the first test, he certainly didn’t look quite up to the standard of yesteryear. While the Top League is quickly shooting up in standard, it’s still a step down compared to Super Rugby and that perhaps showed on Saturday evening.
“I thought Beaudie made a lot of really good decisions,” Foster said. “I thought his instincts were maybe just a fraction off – and that’s why we’re keen to keep playing him and giving him more and more time but I was really impressed with a lot of his game management in that game and to me, he’s not far off where we need him to be.”
Barrett entered the game already sporting two black eyes – thanks in part to taking a few knocks at training from some of his teammates. The big Fijians then quickly laid siege to the 30-year-old, who had to spend 10 minutes off the park aftering taking one particularly hefty blow.
Foster suggested that likely impacted his performance.
“[He] took a couple of big head knocks, face knocks, and I thought it just maybe dampened his desire to go to the line quite as hard as what you know he can and so this is a chance for him to have a little bit of a breather in that space but come on and show us in that second half.”
Ardie Savea is the first to admit that he'd rather be wearing the #AllBlacks No 8 jersey than sitting in the stands – but an extended run in his preferred role of openside flanker could be the making of his career. #NZLvFIJ
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) July 15, 2021
While Mo’unga has been given the nod at fly-half and there are other indicators that the side named for this weekend’s game in Hamilton is perhaps the best the All Blacks have to offer right now, Foster refused to confirm as such.
“I’ll leave that to you, really. I said at the start we’re managing players’ workload from a Super Rugby campaign, looking at building our game the way we want it to be and I guess growing combinations, there’s a little bit of that.
“There’s also a little bit of management with players who have been out for a while, hence the likes of Brodie Retallick – he had a big game last week so it’s a chance to use him differently. We feel a bit the same with Beaudie. There’s a chance to move a few people around.”
Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT.
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