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Richie Mo'unga set to miss opening rounds of Super Rugby Pacific

By Sam Smith
Richie Mo'unga. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

All Blacks playmaker Richie Mo’unga is set to miss the opening rounds of next year’s inaugural edition of Super Rugby Pacific.

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Mo’unga has been pivotal for the Crusaders in their five title-winning campaigns in Super Rugby and Super Rugby Aotearoa since 2017 but may be unavailable for as many six of the franchise’s first fixtures of the 2022 season.

That could leave the Crusaders without the 27-year-old for home matches against the Highlanders and Blues, away games against the Hurricanes, Moana Pasifika and Highlanders, and their Super Round clash against the Reds in Melbourne.

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Just how many matches, if any, Mo’unga will sit out depends on how physically and mentally drained he feels following a lengthy spell away from home with the All Blacks.

Mo’unga has played nine tests for the All Blacks in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Europe this year and is currently in the midst of a nine-week stint abroad as part of the team’s travel commitments amid Covid-19 restrictions.

A further two-week quarantine period upon the team’s return to New Zealand will extend his stay away from his young family, although that could have been longer had he travelled with the All Blacks when they left for Australia for the Rugby Championship in August.

Instead, Mo’unga remained in New Zealand to attend the birth of his second child, but travelled to Queensland and undertook a two-week quarantine in the lead-up to their tournament-ending loss to the Springboks last month, which he featured in.

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While New Zealand Rugby clarified that it wants all its franchise’s All Blacks playing in Super Rugby Pacific to help boost the profile of the new-look competition, Mo’unga has a clause in his Crusaders contract that entitles him to an extended off-season.

Anticipating that he will exercise that right outlined in his contract, Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson says he will discuss Mo’unga’s availability for next year once he returns from overseas in the coming weeks.

“It’s in his contract to have choices. Whether it’s two, four, six, or one week, they are conversations to be had,” Robertson told Stuff.

“It’s his call, but we will work through it. We’ll see how many games he’s played, how he is feeling. Does he want to do something different for the pre-season to freshen up?”

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Should he be without Mo’unga for an extended period, Robertson will be able to call upon the services of young prospect Fergus Burke and utility back David Havili, who guided the Crusaders to a win over the Chiefs from first-five last year.

It has also been reported that the Crusaders are expected to announce the signing of veteran playmaker Simon Hickey, formerly of the Blues and Hurricanes, when the New Zealand and Moana Pasifika Super Rugby squads are unveiled next Monday.

However, Robertson acknowledged the importance of having Mo’unga in his side’s ranks as he targets a sixth piece of silverware in as many seasons during his time at the helm of the franchise.

“He’s a franchise quarterback, we know that,” Robertson said, as per Stuff. “But guys behind him are just going to have to stand up, and that’s the great thing about our club, players do that. It’s an opportunity for someone.”

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