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Let's hope that Richie Mo’unga wasn't serious about the All Blacks

Richie Mo'unga speaks during a press conference hosted by the Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo in Fuchu, Tokyo Metropolis, on November 21, 2023. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP via Getty Images)

You hope that Richie Mo’unga was just being polite.

That in being interviewed by local media, upon his arrival in Japan to play for Toshiba Brave Lupus, he wanted to show the local audience his intentions are good.

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That he’s not just there for the, reported, $2 million per season in cash. That he’s genuinely enthused to play in League One and not already thinking of an exit strategy.

You hope that.

Because, without Mo’unga, the cupboard of competent first five-eighths’ back here in New Zealand is pretty bare.

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Look, new players always emerge.

I always think back to 2015 and guys like McCaw, Carter, Smith, Woodcock, Mealamu and Nonu hanging up their All Blacks jumpers. I recall the comments that the team would go to hell in a hat, only to prove just about unbeatable in 2016.

But I can’t imagine for a second that, given their reportedly close relationship and enormous success together, new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson isn’t regularly in Mo’unga’s ear.

Again, I hope that.

I’m about as enthusiastic a Beauden Barrett supporter as you’ll find, but I want to see what Mo’unga can do for the All Blacks without him.

I don’t think their shared presence has enhanced the career of either of them. On that basis, I’ve argued for one or the other to be left to run the team in peace.

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After a while I didn’t even care which one. I just thought the All Blacks needed one game-driver and not two.

Life in a foreign country isn’t always as much fun for wives and children as it is for the player. Sure, the money’s good and the lifestyle novel for a bit, but families need support.

The 29-year-old Mo’unga can say that he wants to play out his rugby days in Japan, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

I applaud him for making the right noises and for telling his new Japanese employers and fanbase that he’s committed to Toshiba and enthused by the competition. That he sees his game growing in this exciting new environment and can’t wait to achieve success.

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But I think the best of Mo’unga as an All Black is still ahead of him and that Robertson has always been the coach who’s fostered his talents most.

So I hope this was just paper talk. That Mo’unga still harbours All Black ambitions and that, in concert with Robertson, he does eventually make the same mark on test footy that he has on Super Rugby.

I wish him and his family well in Japan, but I sincerely hope he’s back playing on these shores before too long.

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