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Richie Mo'unga will leave New Zealand as the greatest ever Super Rugby player

By Ben Smith
(Photos by Hannah Peters/Getty Images and KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)

Richie Mo’unga enters his last Super Rugby season for the Crusaders before heading to Japan having already cemented a legacy unrivalled.


The case for Mo’unga as the greatest player in Super Rugby history is compelling. His success under Scott Robertson could be said to be a byproduct of the system and environment he is in.

Surrounded by great players, coaching and system, the Crusaders have elevated Mo’unga’s talent.

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But why the No 10 is in the conversation as the greatest ever above others from his Crusaders team such as Sam Whitelock, a great himself with 174 Crusaders caps, is simple.

The engine room must lay a platform, but the playmakers must make the plays as highlighted through out the history of the competition.

Test rugby may require experience from a No 10 but Super Rugby has always required flair and attacking genius.

Super Rugby teams without a dynamic, international calibre first five-eighth in their prime do not win championships.


A younger Whitelock went title-less through the back end of Carter’s career with two close final losses until Richie Mo’unga arrived.

Carlos Spencer with the Blues, Stephen Larkham with the Brumbies, Andrew Mehrtens and Dan Carter with the Crusaders through the late 90s and 2000s.

The list goes on with Quade Cooper with the Reds, Lima Sopoaga of the Highlanders, Aaron Cruden with the Chiefs and Beauden Barrett with the Hurricanes in the 2010s.

The only Super Rugby teams to win with a No 10 over 30 years old were those who had already captured a title in their 20s. Teams who do not have a star No 10 in their prime years, do not win. Teams with old 10s do not win.

As the key game driver for the Crusaders, Mo’unga’s influence on results outweighs that of his pack and the other great players in his teams.


He is the main man when it comes to manufacturing line breaks or making them himself, pulling the strings to create tries, driving the team around the park and tactically playing the field.

He has consistently delivered big plays in those Super Rugby finals and many more through the play-offs to reach them.

As Scott Robertson put it after last year’s Super Rugby Pacific win over the Blues, he is their point guard like Steph Curry.

If the greatest ever Super player is to be measured by silverware, no generational star has won as many titles as Mo’unga, apart from some his own teammates of course.

His debut season in 2016 is the only year he has not been crowned a champion, with three straight Super Rugby titles from 2017-19, two Super Rugby Aotearoa titles in 2020 and 2021 before claiming the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific title in 2022.


Once the competition went domestic, Mo’unga was the Most Valuable Player of Super Rugby Aotearoa by some distance over the 2020 and 2021 seasons, leading in stat categories like try assists and defenders beaten as an attacking force that could not be handled.

Six titles in seven years is unprecedented in Super Rugby despite the disruptions and changes to the competition over the back half of Mo’unga’s Super Rugby career.

To say the Crusaders wouldn’t have topped the South African sides had they been still included since 2020 is presumption founded only in fantasy.

Mo’unga lost just once to a South African team as a Crusader in the 2016 quarter-final against the Lions. The Crusaders record against South African teams was 14 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss in those four seasons.

They buried the majority of those teams by huge score lines, with the exception of the three-time finalist Lions, usually drowning the rest with an avalanche of tries.

The 2022 United Rugby Championship-winning Stormers would have been worthy of a challenge but certainly no guarantee to beat the Crusaders.

Mo’unga’s 1,053 Super Rugby points falls some distance short of Dan Carter’s 1,708, however Mo’unga has only played seven seasons compared to Carter’s 13-year stint.

It cannot be denied that he has owned the Hurricanes, the Blues, the Chiefs and the Highlanders over his career.

When he took over as the Crusaders starting 10, Beauden Barrett’s Hurricanes were the top team in New Zealand. In 2017 the Crusaders assumed the mantle and never gave it back.

The only shame about Mo’unga’s glittering Crusaders career is most of it has been played in a makeshift stadium on a horse track. Perhaps when he returns to New Zealand the Crusaders will be playing in a fit-for-purpose Stadium.

Whether he returns as a player at 32 year old after his Japan stint is unknown, it could be on the table if he has desires to resume his international career as an All Black.

If this is the last year of the Mo’unga show in Crusaders colours it is time to enjoy his greatness as they chase title number seven under Robertson.


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RUGBYPASS+ The major Six Nations concern for Wales and England ahead of RWC 2023 The major Six Nations concern for Wales and England ahead of RWC 2023