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'We address the elephant in the room': All Black first five battle not a destabilising force for the team says Mo'unga

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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As the All Blacks assemble in camp ahead of their tests against Tonga and Fiji, new faces and old faces have come together to create a fresh environment for this year’s squad.


Returning first five Richie Mo’unga enters the camp having won another Super Rugby Aotearoa title with the Crusaders, and is looking to get back into the ‘groove’ with the All Blacks side.

“What you remember quite quickly is your journey, your start in the jersey and your first experience coming in,” Mo’unga said of meeting the newcomers.

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“The new boys coming in, its just about making them feel as welcome as possible. It’s about getting into the grove again, I think this week is about getting into a good grove.”

Mo’unga will once again face off against Beauden Barrett who has returned from Suntory in Japan to join the squad. The pair last year played in a 10-15 partnership across The Rugby Championship, but Barrett has made it public knowledge he wants to play 10 again for New Zealand.

The Crusaders flyhalf said the battle is ‘no different’ to other contests in the squad for positions. He said that their relationship is healthy and the way they push each other for the starting role can only be healthy for the team.

“I think it is no different to any other player. There is a lot of competition out there in positions, I think it is really healthy for the team, it’s healthy for us because it is a big challenge,” he said.


“To know that I’ve got someone like Baz is wanting the same jersey as me, it’s motivating, it’s inspiring. It’s not an unhealthy challenge, it is one that is going to be better for the team.

“Whoever dons the jersey, I’ll be happy for him and he’d be happy for me and it’s about, if I’m not putting that 10 jersey on, it’s ‘what’s my role?'”

There are no secrets held, as Mo’unga says the pair are open and honest about their ambitions in the team. They both desire to start but will put the team before themselves.

“We are open about it. We address the elephant in the room, but once again, we are not bigger than the team. The team is far greater than the individual,” he said.


“If he is wearing the 10 jersey this week, how can I help best prepare him, how can I best prepare the team to go out there and perform, and it’s putting your ego on the hook.”

Despite entering the international season in some of his career best Super Rugby form, Mo’unga doesn’t feel like he can be called the best based on performances against Australian and Kiwi Super teams.

“I feel like I’ve had a great Super Rugby season, probably my best yet but we are comparing apples with apples,” he said.

“To say we are the best, we’ve got to perform against the best.

“We haven’t had that chance really. We’ve been caught in our own bubble, playing Australia and New Zealand teams, but to me that isn’t really showing how great we are as a team.

“We need to do that against other countries on the world stage.”

One man who has pushed his way into the All Blacks squad on form is David Havili, who now looks like the frontrunner to play at 12 following injuries to Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown.

Seeing his Crusaders teammate recalled made Mo’unga feel like a proud ‘older brother’, and he is looking forward to seeing him take his opportunity.

“I feel like a proud older brother, seeing him back in this enviroment. We all know what he has been through”

“We for sure know what he is capable of, and it was just a matter of time before he was back in this environment. One thing I will say about Dave, he’s worked bloody hard to be where he is now.

“He’s calm, composed, under pressure. I’m looking forward to seeing him hopefully get an opportunity. He’s been in this environment before, he was in it before me so he’s well experienced and knows he needs to worry about his role.

As for who lines up in the midfield when Mo’unga is on the field at first five, he hopes any changes in the midfield won’t impact his play, preferring to play off instincts and focus on his core role.

“I hope not because I want to play what is in front of me. I think that is a strength of mine, giving the things you create. Playing based on my gut feel and my instincts,” he said.

“I hope that everyone that plays outside me or my midfield, they do the same. I hope they nail there role so I can nail mine, and that collectively puts together a good performance.”



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