If it weren’t for the guidance of Richie Mo’unga’s high school coaches, the All Blacks flyhalf could well be plying his trade in the NRL instead of at the World Cup.
According to Stuff, the 25-year-old playmaker piqued the interest of many rugby league scouts during a 1st XV tour to Queensland with St Andrew’s College.
Mo’unga thrived at the Christchurch education institution during his three years in the school’s premier side, starring in the local UC Championship alongside future All Blacks Damian McKenzie (Christ’s College), Anton Lienert-Brown and Hurricanes pivot Fletcher Smith (both Christchurch Boys’).
So, when Mo’unga’s talents were on show in Australia, many onlookers from the 13-man code were eager to make hime one of their own.
“He certainly generated a lot of interest,” Mo’unga’s 1st XV coach Mike Johnston told Stuff.
“Not just in rugby. We went to the Gold Coast a couple of times and the league scouts were very, very interested in him.
“He had the offers. They could see what he could do as a stand-off or half in rugby league.”
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However, despite Mo’unga’s older brother Tonga forging a domestic rugby league career in New Zealand with the Canterbury Bulls, Richie spurned offers to follow in his brother’s footsteps and instead signed with the Canterbury Rugby Union.
He joked to Stuff three years ago that Tonga wouldn’t have allowed him to play rugby league anyway, as his sibling didn’t believe he was tough enough to play the sport.
As things have transpired, though, rugby league’s loss has undoubtedly been rugby union’s gain.
After tracking his progress right through secondary school, the CRU signed Mo’unga and handed him his first-class in 2013, the year after he graduated from St Andrew’s.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 20, 2019
An impressive debut display against Manawatu foreshadowed what was to come over the ensuing years, as he has led Canterbury to four Mitre 10 Cup titles and made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2016 following the post-World Cup exits of Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor.
An All Blacks debut against the French XV in Lyon came a year later, and with 12 tests under his belt, he now finds himself starting for New Zealand in their blockbuster 2019 World Cup opener against South Africa in Yokohama on Saturday night.
That could well have been the Kiwis rather than the All Blacks, but his persistence and dedication to rugby union has paid dividends.
The All Blacks and Springboks kick-off their World Cup campaigns tonight at 6:45pm (local time).
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