'The rivalry continues': Mo'unga opens up in battle with Barrett
The superstar duo are in the midst of a battle against one another to start at first-five for the All Blacks after two years of working in tandem as part of a controversial dual playmaker scheme.
Barrett started at first-five in a test match for the All Blacks for the first time since 2019 on Saturday after largely being used at fullback by former head coach Sir Steve Hansen and current boss Ian Foster.
Although the 30-year-old was a little subdued in his side’s 57-23 win over Fiji at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, the outing will be pleasing for Barrett after Mo’unga dominated the No. 10 jersey for the past two years.
The week beforehand, Mo’unga was handed the starting honours in New Zealand’s 102-0 thumping of Tonga in Auckland in a match where he performed admirably against a vastly underprepared ‘Ikale Tahi side.
Foster’s decision to chop and change between the duo early on in the test campaign is perhaps reflective of how he intends to use them both throughout the rest of the international season.
With Barrett vying for a place in the starting team as a first-five rather than a fullback, Mo’unga is aware of the battle he has on his hands to keep the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year out of the jersey he has made his own in recent years.
“He’s doing well,” Mo’unga told media on Monday when asked about his relationship with Barrett after the later came back into All Blacks camp from his six-month sabbatical in Japan.
“He’s tracking well. His Japanese is really good and he’s come back with a few kicking drills that I’ve enjoyed watching him do, working on his left and right foot spiral, as you would have seen on the weekend.
“Our relationship’s the same. It’s awesome. We both have daughters that are similar age. The rivalry continues with us, battling it out for the 10 jersey, which is really healthy. It’s good, good for us both.”
Despite missing out to Barrett on a place in last week’s match day squad, Mo’unga insisted his mindset remained as sharp and competitive on the sideline as it would have been had he been playing.
“My energy’s the same. It’s very much the same as if I was playing. The nerves are still the same, except I’m just in the stands watching,” Mo’unga said of his experience as a spectator last weekend.
“But, as soon as I found out I wasn’t playing, it was switching over to see how I can prepare the boys the best I can and what I can give Beaudy what he needs to prepare well so he can play well knowing that he’s prepared really well.”
That being said, the 27-year-old pivot doesn’t appear as willing to let Barrett waltz back into the starting side for this week’s re-match against Fiji at FMG Stadium Waikato.
“Early stages of the week, it’s preparing to play again. It starts again.”
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