Mo'unga, McKenzie, Jordan, Beauden or Jordie?: Ex-All Blacks pick their 10s and 15s for the All Blacks
Former All Blacks Jeff Wilson, Mils Muliaina and Sir John Kirwan, as well as ex-Black Fern Hannah Porter, have selected who they believe will start at first-five and fullback for the All Blacks this year.
Debate has been fierce across New Zealand as to who should start in the No 10 and No 15 jerseys given the number of genuine candidates to fill those respective positions.
Over the past two international seasons, incumbent playmakers Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett have dominated the first-five and fullback spots as part of a controversial dual-playmaking axis that has garnered mixed results.
That has led to calls from some fans and pundits for a shakeup to the national side’s starting lineup, with the likes of Jordie Barrett, Damian McKenzie and Will Jordan all rising to stardom in Super Rugby in recent years.
The added factors of Mo’unga finding himself in career-best form and Beauden Barrett spending the first six months of this year on sabbatical in Japan have culminated in growing public opinion that this year could be the time to change the 10-15 dynamic.
Former All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg led the charge last month when he said the All Blacks have “gone around in circles” trying to make the dual-playmaker system work, and now Kirwan, Muliaina and Wilson have all followed suit.
When asked who he would pick as his first-five and fullback for the All Blacks on The Breakdown on Monday, Kirwan opted for Mo’unga in the No 10 jersey and Jordie Barrett at No 15.
He reasoned that Barrett’s form, leadership qualities and goal-kicking exploits for the Hurricanes could become valuable assets for the All Blacks heading into tests against European nations and the 2023 World Cup in France.
“I believe at test match level, someone who can kick a goal like he can from 55 metres, if you’re thinking about World Cup coming up, playing some of the northern hemisphere teams, I think that’s fundamental,” Kirwan told The Breakdown.
“He’s also in great form and leading the Hurricanes, I believe.”
As for Mo’unga, Kirwan said he can’t be denied of a starting role in the national side due to his “amazing” form for the Crusaders.
The 1987 World Cup-winner added that he would have both McKenzie and Beauden Barrett – both of whom can play first-five and fullback – on the bench at the expense of a forward.
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Kirwan questioned the need for an extra forward in the reserves when “Scott Barrett can play 6” and “you’ve got so many guys who can play 6, 8 and lock”.
Muliaina, meanwhile, agreed with Kirwan’s selections in the starting side as he also opted for Mo’unga at first-five and Jordie Barrett at fullback.
“I just think he’s playing some spectacular football at the moment,” the 2011 World Cup-winning fullback said of Mo’unga, who Muliaina and Wilson labelled as the greatest Super Rugby player of all-time last week.
“I think his decision-making, his kicking, and I think, Mo’unga, he deserves to be there.”
Muliaina noted that, upon his return from Suntory Sungoliath, he would allow Beauden Barrett to jostle with Mo’unga for the No 10 jersey, the position of which the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year has vocally preferred over fullback.
“You bring Barrett back from Japan to see how he is, and you let the two 10s [compete for a starting role]. Let’s be perfectly honest here, either one of those two 10s can start, Beauden or Mo’unga. We can have them fight it out. Let’s have them fight it out.
“It might be this week Mo’unga, it might be the following week Barrett. Let’s let them fight it out rather than just [playing Barrett at fullback].”
Wilson agreed with the sentiments of both Muliaina and Kirwan regarding the form of Mo’unga and Jordie Barrett, but he urged them not to overlook Jordan.
The former All Blacks and Black Caps dual international said the chemistry Jordan has with his Crusaders teammates could be crucial for Ian Foster’s side, before adding that he has yet to be given a full chance at the All Blacks jersey, unlike his peers.
Furthermore, Wilson argued that Beauden Barrett may best be used off the bench, as he was often utilised prior to his elevation into New Zealand’s starting lineup in 2016.
“I couldn’t agree with you more around Jordie Barrett, and I don’t want to gloss over the form of the Hurricanes on tonight’s show because they’ve been really good,” Wilson said.
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“They’ve had three bonus point wins and I think he’s been a massive part of that given the fact that Orbyn Leger is finding his feet at 10 for them and he’s [Barrett] had to step up and go to the next level, so I think he deserves an opportunity.
“We shouldn’t forget Will Jordan, though. The conversations we had around this special player… I would like to see him get a chance early, I really would.
“His combination, to me, with Mo’unga and David Havili, and I know he’s not in the conversation, but the three of them together seem to have a connection and I think they can feed off each other.
“I would like to see him get a chance early because I know what Damian McKenzie can do in the All Black jersey. I know what Beauden Barrett can do in the All Black jersey.
“I think Jordie Barrett is going to get his opportunity, but what I’d also like to see is Beauden Barrett’s impact off the bench.
“Beauden Barrett’s biggest impact, for me, as an All Black has been, in a lot of cases, for the last 25 minutes of a game where he has been near-unstoppable against tiring and struggling opposition.”
Despite the three former All Blacks opting against retaining the dual-playmaking axis between Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett, Porter remained in favour of it as she believed the “best people” should be on the field at any given time.
The two-time Women’s World Cup-winner added the uncertainty of the number of tests between now and the 2023 World Cup means the All Blacks should limit the amount of experimentation in their playing side over the coming years.
“The one thing we can’t do at the moment is take any test match for granted and we don’t know how many we’re going to have before the next World Cup,” the two-time Women’s World Cup-winner said.
“So, for that reason, I’m going Mo’unga at 10 and Beauden Barrett at 15. Get him back from overseas, put him in a black jersey, get him playing the game again. On the bench, McKenzie.”
The first All Blacks team of 2021 will take to the field against Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on July 3.
The All Blacks will then face Fiji in back-to-back tests in Dunedin and Hamilton over the following two weeks.
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