'Maybe I can take Suntory one better': Richie Mo'unga reveals post-World Cup plans
Mo’unga last week announced that he has signed a one-year contract extension with New Zealand Rugby [NZR] that will keep him on Kiwi shores until the end of 2023.
He is not contracted beyond then, though, and the 28-year-old first-five has since made it clear that he harbours a desire to take his talents abroad for as long as two years following on from the World Cup.
“Another reason for the one-year sign on with NZ Rugby was allowing myself to have a look at opportunities overseas and seeing what somewhere like Japan has to offer and keeping my options open, whether that’s one or two seasons over there, and possibly coming back to New Zealand and hopefully play for the Crusaders and All Blacks.
“I want to experience another culture with my family. Taking my wife and kids to Japan would be awesome to experience something different and another style of rugby.
“I’ve been at the Crusaders and Canterbury since I started my professional career so I’m looking to experience something different.”
Mo’unga further clarified that he and his family are “looking more likely for two years” in Japan rather than a one-year spell.
As such, a potential return to New Zealand wouldn’t be on the cards until midway through 2025 at the earliest, by which point the 32-test international will be 31-years-old.
Just how significantly his age at that point in time will impact his chances of playing for the All Blacks again remains to be seen, but a post-World Cup departure to Japan would leave New Zealand severely short-changed of first-five options.
Joining Mo’unga as the only other outright first-five for the All Blacks is incumbent playmaker Beauden Barrett, who is expected to call time on his test career and leave New Zealand for good after next year’s World Cup.
Without Barrett or Mo’unga on deck, the All Blacks face the prospect of entering 2024 without their two most senior first-fives.
Utility back Damian McKenzie looms as a potential suitor to step up in the absence of Barrett and Mo’unga at first-five, but he is still yet to re-sign with NZR since coming off-contract at the end of last year.
The 27-year-old has instead been playing for Suntory Sungoliath in Japan, guiding the side to a runner-up finish in League One last weekend.
McKenzie’s decision to join Suntory came a year after Barrett linked up with the Tokyo-based club on a lucrative six-month sabbatical deal last year, but also failed to win silverware.
Both players succumbed to the Panasonic Wild Knights in their respective finals, prompting Mo’unga to suggest that he could be the one to lead Suntory to the Japanese club title.
“You look at someone like D-Mac [McKenzie] who has been able to go over there and be a huge influence,” Mo’unga told the New Zealand Herald.
“It’s quite funny Baz [Barrett] was there the year before and they lost in the final. D-Mac lost in the final, too, so maybe I can take Suntory one better.”
Blues star Stephen Perofeta leads that pack after impressing for the Blues this season, while Hurricanes youngsters Aidan Morgan and Ruben Love, as well as Fergus Burke – Mo’unga’s backup at the Crusaders – are all regarded as highly-touted prospects.
Much needs to be seen out of those latter three players before they can be considered for All Blacks selection, though, meaning New Zealand’s aspiring first-fives will have plenty to play for over the coming years.
For the time being, Mo’unga has his sights set on winning a sixth Super Rugby title in as many years with the Crusaders before attempting to go a few places better at next year’s World Cup after New Zealand’s 2019 World Cup semi-final exit.
“The World Cup is definitely a huge motivator for me wanting to have another crack and right some wrongs from the last one, take all those lessons on board and have my name in those conversations and get a job done there.”