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Richie Mo'unga is a luxury, not a need, for the All Blacks

By Ben Smith
Richie Mo'unga of New Zealand looks dejected at full-time after their team's defeat in the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Ramos - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Described as the Crusaders’ Steph Curry by incoming All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson, there is no doubt that he would like to select Richie Mo’unga from his overseas-base in Japan at Toshiba Brave Lupus.

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After seven Super Rugby titles in seven years under Robertson, the two clearly have a successful working relationship that delivers results.

That partnership could have become a foundation of Robertson’s All Blacks. But Mo’unga is not a necessity for the All Blacks. His availability and selection is desired, but not needed.

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Perhaps it would be different if the Crusaders’ version of Mo’unga was what the All Blacks got. If he was always on form and performed in the biggest games. Perhaps under Robertson, that is what would’ve happened had he stayed.

Mo’unga has made great strides as a Test player since his 2019 debut and when he’s on, the All Blacks have looked unstoppable.

At Ellis Park against the Springboks with Ian Foster’s job on the line, numerous Bledisloe beatdowns, and the Ireland quarter-final were some of his best games.

But when push came to shove on the biggest stage, Mo’unga was far below his potential. Below-par execution from the No 10, and a host of other players, played a key part in the loss in the Rugby World Cup final.

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Will Jordan had an off night altogether, Jordie Barrett had a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and Mo’unga seemingly couldn’t get anything right, not for a lack of trying.

On the second All Blacks’ launch of the game a net loss of 25 metres came from a Mo’unga pass that missed the mark after a miscue with Will Jordan.

After scrambling back to secure the ball, Shannon Frizell’s yellow card infringement occurred at the next ruck, leading to a gift three points for South Africa inside three minutes.

The poor execution from Mo’unga and Jordan won’t show on the stat sheet but that bad play compounded to bigger problems.

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Off a pod screen release to the backs a hurried pass hit the turf and bounced into the hands and knees of Jordan leading a knock-on and lost opportunity in the 20th minute.

He was under a lot of pressure from the South African rush, taking contact after the pass multiple times. That pressure seemed to put Mo’unga off his execution and timing early.

The All Blacks were terrible at diffusing the high ball in challenging conditions, with Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett coughing up way too many which played into the Springboks game plan. Of all the errors these were arguably the most costly.

There were gutsy plays, a try saving tackle on Siya Kolisi early in the second half followed by a repeat effort on another Bok to ensure a goal line dropout.

But Mo’unga’s magic with the ball-in-hand disappeared.

Quick hands from Jordie Barrett finally beat Faf de Klerk on the edge about 25 metres out only for Mo’unga to drop it cold with a man outside him.

Attacking the Springboks goal line in the 51st minute a planned switch play involving Mo’unga, Jordie Barrett and Jordan resulted in a turnover with a knock-on, squandering a golden chance after the team turned down three points.

Even his best attacking play of the night was ruled out, dusting Kurt-Lee Arendse with a shimmy before a goosey to the outside around Damian de Allende, breaking away before a one-hand sling back inside to Aaron Smith for a would-be try.

When Beauden Barrett finally crossed the chalk Mo’unga missed a critical conversion from a tough spot that would have given the All Blacks the lead.

Mo’unga and the other kickers couldn’t muster a drop goal attempt in the brief remaining possessions despite being a man down since the 27th minute.

He’s an attacking genius and Super Rugby supremo, but at the highest level there are still wide variances in the quality of performances delivered.

Are the All Blacks eligibility rules meant to be changed for one player? And why should they for Mo’unga? No All Black before has given that special treatment.

His comments in his introductory press conference at Toshiba suggest he doesn’t want to play for the All Blacks anymore.It is a shame that he has gone early, but there is no reason to bend the rules for him.

By the same token, there is no reason why he can’t return after three years and give the Rugby World Cup a third try. The Japanese league has improved in standard and has been home too many of the Springboks’ World Cup winners the last four years without detriment.

His experience in two unsuccessful campaigns is a valuable asset. You can’t manufacture the pressure of World Cup knock-out games. Those lessons can help take Mo’unga’s game to a new level, but only if he returns to the arena.

There is really only major trophy for Mo’unga to win, and that is the Rugby World Cup. He has more than enough Super Rugby titles, and tasted All Blacks success with Bledisloe Cups, Freedom Cups and Rugby Championships.

Once he’s secured his financial future hopefully he will feel as a rugby player that there is one thing missing.

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Comments

51 Comments
G
Gideon 188 days ago

Richie is a necessity not a luxury. Being a world class player in his sublime speed, defensive capabilities and ability to break a game open in seconds sets him apart from all other tens.

S
Stephen 190 days ago

Would any team have handled SAS wrecking ball defence led by PSDT?

On the flip side Pollard showed that kickers win world cups, or lose them.

If you see the Boks overseas strategy vs All Blacks, can the ABs afford not to pick any internationally based NZ players in next 4 years?

J
Jon 190 days ago

The poor execution from Mo’unga
I thought he was their best back and is getting blamed for way too many things here. This author is like many recently, discussing the eligibility topic like Mo’unga didn’t show that he’s now able to transition his class into the International arena. That would be a mistake if this were actually a serious topic. In this article at least, they appear to have acknowledged his successful year, but have intentionally down played it in order to engage debate against the idea? I’m confused, as this is normally done to go against the grain of popular opinion, but here he’s seemingly trying to help kill the topic?
Ohh right, its a Ben Smith article. He’s more concerned about the ABs making him look bad when they lost the RWC Final. No, you can’t blame that on Richie, Ben!

M
Marius 190 days ago

I would have loved to see Ritchie play under Razor. The games Ritchie performed well, our forwards either dominated or matched the opposition. That was not the case in the RWC final and the Twick thrashing by that same team.

s
swivel 191 days ago

Having 5 out 6 international 10s like in 2010/11 is a luxury. Having 3 is a need.

J
JD Kiwi 191 days ago

The author is over the top in his critique as usual but we can't afford to blow up our domestic game for a few players, let's alone on one who is good rather than great and has made a conscious decision not to be an All Black.

D
Dbnrugga 191 days ago

Ben finding blame wherever he can. Poor man. Springboks pumped them all over the field and missed opportunities too. AB try was a blatant knock forward too, game wasn't even close. 4X🏆 . Thanks for participating.

D
David 191 days ago

Dan Carter was a luxury but Mo is tourist class. At a time when world No 10s are at a low ebb Mo hardly shines above the others. He was not even the best 10 at Super level in 2022 and has had two goes at World Cups, with little impact.

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