Ask any New Zealand rugby fan who should start at first-five for the All Blacks, and the answer will be one of two players.
Some will say star Blues recruit Beauden Barrett needs to be reinstated in the national No. 10 jersey after helping guide the Aucklanders to their best campaign in nearly a decade in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Other will argue Crusaders playmaker Richie Mo’unga deserves to maintain his place in the starting lineup following a compelling 10-week showing in the Kiwi domestic league that saw his side clinch their fourth consecutive title.
It’s a predicament that has divided a nation and likely won’t be solved until All Blacks head coach Ian Foster names his first team of the year over the coming months.
That hasn’t stopped All Blacks duo James Parsons and Brad Weber from weighing in on the debate in their most recent appearance on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
Veteran Blues hooker Parsons, who played two tests for the All Blacks in 2014 and 2016, believes his Super Rugby teammate Barrett is the best option for Foster’s team due to his extensive skill set.
“I don’t think we can look past how good Beaudy looked at 10 when he moved there,” the 33-year-old said, referencing Barrett’s shift from fullback to first-five midway through Super Rugby Aotearoa.
“Richie – don’t get me wrong, I’ve raved about him, I think he’s great and he’s definitely the form 10 – but with the three games Beaudy had at 10, he changed our attack massively.”
Parsons noted Barrett’s performance against the Highlanders in Dunedin three weeks ago as an example of how good the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year can be.
“Just his ability to be flat at the line and hold defenders, his ability to kick and pass,” Parsons said.
“To stop that cross-field kick and then give that bullet pass to [Tony] Lamborn against the Highlanders, that takes a hell of a lot of skills.
“It’s a tough decision and one that’s just not going to get answered because you could start either of them.”
Although he admitted to having a bias towards Barrett, Parsons recognised Mo’unga’s sensational form was probably enough to earn him earn selection at first-five for the All Blacks.
“Richie’s probably got the inside running because he’s played seven games, and even before Super, because Beaudy had that sabbatical, he’s been the form one all year,” Parsons said.
“He just has that ability to cut teams open regularly, and he’s also a pretty sharp shooter with the boot, so it’s a tough one.
“I’m going to be biased. I would probably pick Beaudy but that’s just because he’s in my team and that’s just the natural way it is, but I appreciate what Richie’s got about his game.”
Chiefs halfback Weber, who attended last year’s World Cup in Japan, was similarly impressed with Mo’unga, highlighting his performance during the Crusaders’ 26-15 win over the Blues in Christchurch last month as an example of his talent.
But, while most would agree that picking Mo’unga at first-five would force Barrett to fullback, Weber added that tactical move could present issues of its own given New Zealand’s positional depth across the board.
“The stuff against you boys down in Christchurch, Jip [Parsons], that stuff was just… it’s freakish,” Weber said of Mo’unga.
“Beaudy’s got so many years, though, of just quality first-five work for the All Blacks, so it’s going to take a fair bit to take that off Beaudy as well.
“But also at 15 as well, the stocks there, because if you play Richie at 10 and then have Beaudy at fullback… Jordie’s [Barrett] playing so good, we’ve got Damian McKenzie who’s clearly class and we’ve already mentioned Will Jordan as well, so, man, what a pickle.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 18, 2020
Fans and pundits alike will get the chance to see Barrett and Mo’unga go head-to-head in the No. 10 jerseys next Saturday after the pair were named as first-fives in the North and South squads on Tuesday.
Barrett is the sole first-five in the North team, although McKenzie and Highlanders pivot Mitch Hunt can provide cover there, while Mo’unga is joined by one-test All Blacks playmaker Josh Ioane in the South side.
The match is currently scheduled to take place at Auckland’s Eden Park, but a rise in Covid-19 cases has seen the city go into level three lockdown until August 26, three days before the fixture is set to take place.
New Zealand Rugby has since revealed Wellington as the back-up option to host the inter-island clash, and players will subsequently assemble in the Kiwi capital in preparation for the match on Monday.
Foster will then name his 35-man All Blacks squad on Sunday, the day after the match is played.
Listen to the full episode of Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
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